Facilitating Group Learning

PIDP 3250 – Instructional Strategies
Vancouver Community College
Kathryn Truant
February 11, 2018

Objective

In her 2012 TED Talk, The Power of Introverts, author Susan Cain discusses that forced learning in groups is not conducive to creativity and productivity. This is especially true for introverts who prefer solitude to be at their most creative and productive. One of her “calls for action” during her Ted Talk is to, “stop the madness for constant group work” (TED, 2012).

Reflective

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I certainly connect with Cain’s philosophy on the correlation between solitude and creativity. However, it is her argument against group work, and her insistence that group work is not a viable method of innovation and learning that I connect with the most. I could watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk over and over. Throughout the video, I was saying, “yeah!”, and, “that’s right!” So, when her ‘number one call to action’ was the abolishment of group learning, I bought her book on the subject: Quiet (2012). I do realize that the purpose of Cain’s TED Talk was to promote her philosophy, and to sell books – she did a great job.

Interpretive 

“Introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments” (TED, 2012). In my opinion, the same philosophy can be applied and taught to extroverts as well (I just need to find a way to do this). All instruction should be learner centred. Introverts require space to contribute, and extroverts need to learn that over stimulation may be counter-productive to meeting learning objectives. Cain argues that “solitude is a crucial ingredient” (TED, 2012) to creativity and productivity, and not only for the introvert. In Quiet (2012), Cain attempts to define introversion and extroversion, and draws from Carl Jung’s, Psychological Types (1921), as well as from contemporary researchers:  An introvert is “drawn to the world of thought and feeling” (p. 10), and “they express themselves better in writing than in conversation” (p. 11). An extrovert is drawn to “the external life of people and activities” (p. 10), and “they’re comfortable with conflict but not with solitude” (p. 11). With these differences in personalities in mind, how can an instructor expect group learning to produce acceptable learning outcomes for all participants?

I want to stress that like Susan Cain, I am not a devotee of group activities as an instructional strategy, but I love collaboration (TED, 2012). However, I understand that learning in groups is sometimes necessary to simulate real-world events. The difference between group learning and collaboration as explained by Cain is that when learning in groups, students begin to assimilate the thoughts and ideas of others (TED, 2012). She describes collaboration as innovative knowledge that a learner brings to a group discussion, after they have had time to reflect on the objective:

“Much better for everybody to go off by themselves, generate their own ideas freed from the distortions of group dynamics, and then come together as a team to talk them through in a well-managed environment, and take it from there.” (TED, 2012).

Decisional

After considering Cain’s argument that learning in groups works best following reflection, how to I assist introverts with collaboration? And, how do I assist extroverts who prefer external stimulation? In Drive (2009), author Daniel Pink argues that “a sense of autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude” (p. 88). I believe that it is the facilitator’s responsibility to seek out group activities that foster autonomous learning prior to collaboration. In Student Engagement Techniques (2010), educator Dr. Elizabeth Barkley outlines numerous classroom activities to keep students actively learning. An excellent mode of collaborative learning, and one that I will consider applying in my professional practice is the Student Engagement Technique 33 Jigsaw: In this technique, learners are assigned distinct topics on which to become an expert. The learners then share their acquired knowledge in groups as facilitators. The learner is responsible for their own topic, as well as learning from other experts/classmates (p. 289).

In my opinion, the Jigsaw technique has potential as a mode to teach collaborative learning skills to introverts, and autonomy skills to extroverts. Just because I am not a proponent for group learning activities, I understand that they can simulate real-world experiences for learners, and especially to teach the skills necessary for all personality types to be comfortable and successful in the classroom and in the work place.

@ Please refer to my Resources page for works cited