Why we need group work in Online Learning

This post is 1st in a 3 part series on the topic of group work in online learning communities. Post 2 will be about strategies for effective group work, and post 3, successful evaluation and outcomes.

Group work. Students groan when they find out there’s a group assignment that’s part of the grading for a given class [ I’m no exception]. Students learning online don’t feel much different, and given the time and distance barriers, it presents even more challenges for these students. What is it about group work that is so distasteful? Many students cite lack of cooperation, work equity and dependency on others as major factors in disliking team work with classmates. Ironically, this is precisely why group work is essential for learning.

The future IS Collaboration
Collaboration goes beyond, two or more people working together towards a common goal – in today’s terms,  collaboration is about open, learning, relationships, sharing and innovation. Though there are numerous benefits to groups working together in an online learning community, below I’ve highlighted the three most important reasons (I think) why group work is essential to any e-learning environment.

1. Essential skills for the 21st Century
Nothing describes ‘why’ collaboration is needed than a living example – of several, I chose Atlassian as an illustration, an innovative software company featured in Forbes Magazine this past month, who’s $100 million business is built on the concept creating collaboration platforms for companies. The client list is impressive, and company executives “are serious about spreading the idea of collaboration and transparency in how people work and how companies are fun”.

Another organization P21, advocates 21st century skill development and claims that employers identify that it is “Critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, collaboration, and communication skills [that] will become more important in a fast-paced, competitive global economy.

Collaborative skills, developed through effective communication in online environments is, and will be essential to workplaces in the 21st century.

2. Innovation and growth
I won’t elaborate too much here, this short, but clever video illustrates beautifully why collaboration is fundamental to creativity, innovations and development.

Where do Ideas come From?  by Steven Johnson

3. Social and Active Learning
Learners learn, really learn when they engage with classmates, when they connect, share, communicate and collaborate with each other. Learning from and through peers is a dimension of learning both in the class and online that is often negated. In previous posts, I’ve also discussed the need for social presence as one of three dimensions of the Community of Inquiry model, which is foundational to successful group work. Students’ ability to express themselves confidently online is necessary for effective team learning.

Further more, time and again we see examples of active learning, where students learn through purposeful, and planned group activities. Harvard Professor, Eric Mazur is an advocate for peer learning, and incorporates this pedagogy into his own instruction, as well as giving seminars to colleagues across the country about his methods. You can read more about Mazur’s [social learning] approach in Twilight of the Lecture – an interesting read.

This innovative style of learning grew into “peer instruction” or “interactive learning,” a pedagogical method that has spread far beyond physics and taken root on campuses nationally. Last year, Mazur gave nearly 100 lectures on the subject at venues all around the world. (His 1997 book Peer Instruction is a user’s manual).  Harvard Magazine, 2012

For e-learning and online educators, incorporating group work into courses is a non-negotiable, given the demands and needs for collaboration and [online] communication skills. Check back early next week for post 2, strategies for creating effective group work online.

24 thoughts on “Why we need group work in Online Learning

  1. Pingback: Teaching Tip: Facilitating Group Work in Online Courses | SPS Faculty Community Site

  2. Dwayne Cox

    Early in this online course, I discovered (no surprise) that I am a social learner. NOW, I find that online learning is best presented at least partly in a social format. So, now being a social learner turns out to be an advantage !!!


  3. Stephanie

    let’s just start by saying everyone needs someone else. therefore collaboration is essential in everything that we do. Working together produces so many great ideas, allows you to tolerate and accept each other’s view point, makes the brain work much easier, causes you to think out of the box. If we are to achieve anything great, we must collaborate. Personally, i love to laugh a good joke..and ost times it happens when i do collaborate!!


  4. alrpblog

    Interesting read. I always thought that two heads were better than one. New ideas can come forward or be clarified if you are sharing with someone else. A new perspective on what you have been thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brenda Talley

    I create a virtual “Coffee shop” where students can hang out without the teachers in there. I also have an on-line office where students can post concerns or questions of a general nature. I like collaborative project, though Canvas is not as handy in creating group spaces as other platforms I have used.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yhanik R.

    An interesting read and definitely exciting video to watch. This article really changed my views on collaborative learning and surely opened my mind up to the social learning techniques used to foster more concrete learning experiences.


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  11. Diane

    I agree…this is great. Communication and collaboration with peers has been a great learning environment for most students. But, there is also a transitional period that students need to go through since the ‘traditional’ classroom has been indoctrinated in the educational system for so long. I have found though that once students realize that they need to let those traditional ideas go and work with their peers, learning becomes not only a wonderful experience but also an empowering one.


    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Diane, your point is so valid – one that we must keep in mind, that students do have a learning curve when transitioning to an online course from a f2f class. Being aware of this certainly can help the instructor be responsive and supportive of students entering into group work. Thank you for the excellent reminder!


  12. Pingback: Why we need group work in Online Learning | E-Learning and Online Teaching Today

  13. Pingback: Why we need group work in Online Learning |

    1. onlinelearninginsights Post author

      Hi Yuka! Thanks for your comment and glad you like the article! Yes you absolutely may share this on your Facebook page! To share, you can either copy and paste the link right into your page, or click the Facebook icon at the bottom of the post, which will take you right to your log-in for Facebook. Thanks again!


  14. Pingback: Why we need group work in Online Learning | techcommgeekmom

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  16. onlinelearninginsights Post author

    Haha! I agree with you, coffee shops as described in the video ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, were likely much different than ‘coffee shops’ as we know them today. These venues today, are not so much for good conversation and exchange of ideas and knowledge, but for shallow conversation 😦 . Perhaps there will soon be a virtual coffee shop using Sykpe where we can sit drinking coffee in our homes and chat with like-minded people from around the world :).


  17. plerudulier

    Reblogged this on Things I grab, motley collection and commented:
    I always have liked the idea of a place where people can meet and exchange ideas. Conversation in general, normal conversation, should be just that. Now however when I go to a teashop, arts cafe or record store it’s a load of hipsters who’d rather inflate their self-worth and preen.



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