Learning is very much a social process and you need to learn to work effectively in groups with people who have very different ideas, personalities, experience, knowledge and cultural background. Before you start a new course take some time to reflect on your own learning and how you interact with others.
- Do you always take an active part in discussions or do you prefer to listen and reflect on what others say?
- Do you enjoy group work or do you prefer to study alone, at your own pace and with your own clear objectives?
- Do you find it valuable to collaborate or do you find group work frustrating, trying to get the group to work effectively?
- Do you often take the initiative and enjoy leading group work or do you prefer to contribute as necessary?
- Which types of co-learners do you find easiest/hardest to work with and why?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a learner? Speaking, listening, writing, reading, teamwork, self-study, leadership, analysis etc. How can you improve your weaker areas on this course?
One of the biggest challenges in any course is working in groups. This will always involve a lot of negotiation, compromise and understanding since you will be working closely (physically or online) with each other for several weeks in order to solve a problem, write a report or discuss coursework. Working in online groups tends to be more demanding and it is easy to misunderstand each other but online work can also be very rewarding and effective if the following issues are taken into consideration.
- Spend time getting to know each other. Have an online meeting where you introduce yourselves and try an ice-breaking activity like seeing how many things you all have in common, share positive experiences from previous courses, favourite holiday destinations etc.
- Work out ground rules for the work you are going to do and write them down. For example: informing the group if you can’t attend a meeting, letting everyone speak without interruption, keeping to deadlines.
- Take time to discuss each member’s strengths and use these to help the work process. Some are good at brainstorming and creative thinking, others are good at analysing and planning etc.
- Share roles in the group work, taking turns at note-taking, leading meetings, doing research etc.