A key feature of learning is to work within a team environment. The student may find themselves working in a team environment comprised of students of different gender, political and religious beliefs, ages and life experiences etc. It is well recognized within the literature that the interdependence of the knowledge, skills and competencies across group members can lead to innovative problem-solving and active learning. Groups are a part of social life.
Each of us is a member of many different groups (Bennis & Shepherd, 1956). Before my social work course I had not really thought about all the different types of groups that exist as having a similar structure, and as going through similar processes, whether it be a group of professionals conferencing on a topic, a study group, a committee determining policy changes, or sporting group discussing next weeks strategy of play (Forsythe, 1990, 1998). Many of the groups that a person is a member of can impact greatly on their lives – either positively or negatively.
On reflection I can see how being placed into a group, instead of choosing one myself to be in one, would represent many group formations in the professional world. In the workforce people are often put into teams without having a choice. So it seems that becoming a member of a group without actively participating in the formation has some real world practicalities. Learning in small groups is very powerful. The development of trust and communication within a group is what leads to the creation of a “team” mentality. Collaborative learning has helped me to break down problems such as understanding a theory, and to look at it from different angles. I believe this has given me a much more comprehensive understanding of class materials.
Learning in a team was productive given the problem-based learning approach that we took in class. Active learning methods such as challenging ourselves by asking open-ended questions (i.e., those that cannot be answered just with a Yes/No); having a small group (less than 7) that allowed for deliberations that could be voted upon within a timely manner; and our teacher took on a ‘facilitator” role to encourage us to discover our own solutions, as opposed to a “mug-and-jug” approach which would have set the teacher up as the “expert” there to “fill us with knowledge”.
I found that I had to take much more responsibility for my learning experiences, and that I was accountable to the group to achieve the goals and tasks that were delegated to me. I can understand how the use of problem-based learning can enhance content knowledge and cultivate the creation of communication skills as well as those of solving dilemmas and problems and developing a sense of self-directed learning skill (c.f., Hendry, Lyon, Prosser, & Sze, 2006). I like the real world application of the process to solve problems encountered on a day-to-day basis.
Effectively changing roles with my teacher meant I had to take on much more responsibility in order to meet my education goals, and ironically I found this empowering and found myself more motivated to complete assignments. My sense of accomplishment was phenomenal as I achieved outcomes that at first seem like great mountains of problems. I expect this experience to enable me to continue a successful life of life-long learning.
Having problems that our team set ourselves drive our learning was a unique experience. Inquiry-based learning has greatly improved my learning experience as compared to the didactic system. I agree with Schmidt that, “PBL provides an environment in which students can draw upon prior knowledge, learn within the real-world context, and reinforce the knowledge through independent and small group work” (www.samdford.edu., 2006). I feel I have “learnt to learn” and look forward to using these cognitive problem-solving tools more in my life and education.
Bennis, W.G. & Shepherd, H.A. (1956) A theory of group development. Human
Relations, 9, 415-437.
Forsyth, D.R. (1990, 1998) Group dynamics. Brooks/Cole Publishing: Pacific Grove.
Hendry, G.D., Lyon, PM, Prosser, M, & Sze, D. (2006) Conceptions of problem-based learning:
The perspectives of students entering a problem-based medical program. Medical Teacher,
28(6), 573 – 575.
www.samford.edu (2006). Background of Problem-Based Learning. Retrieved January 8, 2008,