Postsecondary Peer Cooperative Learning Programs: Increased Diversity, Sophistication, and Effectiveness

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Postsecondary Peer Cooperative Learning Programs: Increased Diversity, Sophistication, and Effectiveness

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National Center for Developmental Education


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Postsecondary peer cooperative learning activities often share common goals of increasing student learning and persistence towards graduation. These approaches range from simple activities created independently by individual classroom teachers to comprehensive programs adopted by many institutions in the U.S. and internationally. Since Dr. Martha Maxwell first reported on these approaches, peer-learning activities have grown in their diversity, sophistication, and effectiveness. This chapter identifies their historical development, theoretical underpinnings, key characteristics, and future areas for investigation and growth and describes best practices of the four major national models of peer learning, requirements for their successful implementation, and a critique of their utility. Dr. Maxwell and others designed increasingly sophisticated systems for the evaluation and certification of these approaches. What started as a simple strategy to help students learn more in the classroom and achieve higher grades has become an important tool to increase college graduation rates while also providing a feedback system for professional development of course instructors and those who facilitate the student peer learning groups. Peer learning groups following best practices not only increase academic engagement with and mastery of historically challenging academic content, but also build supportive learning communities. They are an important contributor to the learning ecosystem in postsecondary education.


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Arendale, D. R. (2014). Postsecondary peer cooperative learning programs: Increased diversity, sophistication, and effectiveness. In J. L. Higbee (Ed). Continuing Contributions to the Field: Essays by the Fellows of the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations in memory of Dr. Martha Maxwell (pp. 137-160). Boone, NC: National Center for Developmental Education, Appalachian State University.

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Arendale, David R.. (2014). Postsecondary Peer Cooperative Learning Programs: Increased Diversity, Sophistication, and Effectiveness. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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