Discussion around the topic of group learning is of interest to many students and teachers. In a group learning situation, many learners are involved in a project together. The enthusiasts of this style of learning may be inclined to say The more the merrier, implying that many students can enjoy working together. However, if the situation is not managed carefully, the proverb could easily read Two is company but three’s a crowd, implying that two can work well together, but once you bring in a third there could be some conflict.
Every learner would like to benefit from a wide range of learning opportunities. The true aim of education is not just to remember facts. There are many areas of individual development that can grow out of the group learning situation. The real S-C-O-P-E of learning can be understood using an acronym to break down and understand the various developmental skills.
S – skills development
C – cognitive development
O – organisational development
P – productive team work
E – entrepreneur outcomes
A step-by-step approach helps us to better understand the real benefits of group learning. This style of learning is a basic educational tool and life skill.
“Being able to work effectively in groups is not only required for assessment in university, but it is a lifetime skill for the workforce, particularly your professional dealings with colleagues and clients.”1
S.C.O.P.E.: The Way to Broaden your Horizons and Get Real Benefits out of Group Work
S: Skills Development.
“Teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”–Ben Franklin.2
What skills are best developed through group work?
- Communication: interacting with a group, sharing ideas, being part of a group.
- Organisation: getting involved with the planning and function of the group.
- Leadership: an opportunity to lead the group or learn about good leadership.
- Collaboration: be able to listen and share ideas with others.
- Negotiation: making decisions by learning to choose the best options.
- Tolerance: becoming more accepting of others’ opinions, working with other people.
- Conflict resolution: learning how to resolve differences of opinion.
C: Cognitive Development.
“Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
How does group work develop cognitive thinking skills?
- Critical thinking: a chance to analyse others’ ideas and question their thinking.
- Problem solving: challenging thoughts and actions through the group forum.
- Value clarification: assessing the true worth of others’ input.
- Active involvement: an opportunity to contribute to the group.
- Learning by example: the group dynamic adds further learning examples.
- Sharing information: different ideas and information increase knowledge.
- Assessments: teaching, learning, and assessment opportunities are increased.
O: Organisational Skills
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so muc.h” –Helen Keller.2
How does group work develop organisational skills?
- Leadership: more opportunities to be in a leadership role and organise the group.
- Adaptation: making the most of different skills in order to equally organise tasks.
- Time management: using time effectively for each task in order to complete the project.
- Administration: more learners to manage the running of the group.
- Information exchange: allows students to hear a more comprehensive approach.
P: Productive Teamwork.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” –Ken Blanchard2
How does group work improve productive teamwork?
- Resources and skills: a greater depth to the abilities of the group.
- Delegation: roles can be given to the right people.
- Manageable: tasks can be broken down into manageable components.
- Better understanding: of the task through discussion and explanation.
- Social support: encourages a shared identity through the group.
- Shared input: allows a diversity of perspectives to be considered.
E: Entrepreneur Skills
“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.” –Henry Ford.2
How does group work develop entrepreneurial skills?
- Adaptability: innovative thinkers are able to adapt and solve problems.
- Commitment: thinking with your group encourages commitment to a task.
- Resourceful sharing: group members share ideas and create new solutions.
- Motivational: groups motivate each other to work for a common goal.
Planning, Supervision, and Assessment
Once the decision to work as a group has been made, the success of the group is dependent on some basic planning and consistent intervention. The group dynamic will not be a successful without 1.Planning, 2. Supervision, and 3. Assessment.
- PLANNING: It is a good idea to start with a SWOT analysis
Find out the group’s SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This will help the group be more productive and increase the margin of success. Plan how each person is going to contribute to the group. Look at the task and decide on how to work together.
- SUPERVISION: Leadership and Ownership
There are different kinds of groups, but all groups need to be able to work together to achieve success. If you are in a study group, a discussion group, or a work group the essential motivation is the same. It is a chance to work together for the common good of all the members. However, the group will need guidance and leadership to help the members achieve their aim. This leadership can come from within the group or be an outside intervention, like a manager, a lecturer, or a teacher.
Collaborative learning or group work “allows students to teach each other or work together to reach a common goal.”3 The shared responsibility that comes from a group setting, gives emotional strength and encouragement to some members of the group. The real value of group work lies in the challenge of working together and being able to make the topic interesting and fun for everyone. However, having an assessment in place raises the standard of the project and encourages the group to strive for a better end result. Assessment is part of planning; the end result should meet the needs of the planned outcome.
It is inevitable that there will be differences of opinion when working in a group. There may be differences of opinion that cannot be overcome, and strong personalities can dominate the group, giving less opportunity to weaker group members. The following comments highlight some of the negatives of group work:
- Unequal production4
- Intrinsic conflict
- Lack of individual thinking
- Decisions take longer
- Easier to avoid work
- Loss of creativity for some individuals
- Inequality of work input
- Less popular members can be ignored
- Relationships and socialising may take priority
- Students may rely heavily on one person.
These negatives, however, can be flipped into positives to ultimately become benefits of group work. Imagine if each of the negatives from 1–10 could be turned around into positives in this dynamic working model of learning. When the negatives turn into positives, with the help of supervisors, then there are added bonus positive outcomes. The leadership role comes into play too:
- Create equal opportunity.
- Add conflict management skills.
- Broaden horizons through others’ knowledge.
- Initiate healthy discussion to speed up progress.
- Set firm boundaries to encourage equal contributions.
- Encourage and stimulate creativity for all.
- Delegate task assignments to ensure everyone has made a contribution.
- Install group and individual assessments to check progress being made.
- Encourage socialising after class.
- Share the load so all students participate in the project.
What is the final conclusion? Do students benefit from group learning?
It would appear that the evidence points heavily towards the benefits of learning in groups. There are some negative responses, but even these can take a turn for the better. The reader of the comment provided here would support the concept of group learning because it can clearly be seen as beneficial.
The Liberty Song, penned in 1768, used the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall.” 5
These words have been used to add strength to many lyrics in many different genres of song. They are heartfelt words that are encouraging and supportive of the benefits of working together.