Learning in small groups has ancient traditions from the foundations of Western Philosophy in Greece, to the culture of ancient India and in the traditions of ancient Chinese and Japan. Indeed the roots of the world’s great religions, started with a teacher interacting with small groups.
In a Brief History of Collaborative Learning: The Origins of Collaborative Learning by Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee presents her research findings on this topic clearly and succinctly.
It has been only with the growth of modern cities and the resulting urban sprawl of the past two hundred years that more efficient methods of teaching large numbers of children were needed and developed into what we now call “traditional teaching”.
Yet during the twentieth century, emerging disciplines in social psychology and education theory proposed new models for learning – for example Jean Piaget and John Dewey, as well as many other social theorists, linguists and social psychologist. Based on constructivism they rejected the idea that student’s learn passively while a teacher instructs, then tests. Students learn best in small interacting groups with the guidance of the teacher.
The key component of learning in groups in general is that the social interaction between students challenges them, promotes active learning and opportunities to use language in context as it occurs naturally.
The British Council website, TeachingEnglish outlines a teacher’s experience of the benefits of teaching in small groups. Learning English in a group is much more effective than on a one-to-one basis
- Students who learn in groups are more motivated and enthusiastic about learning
- Learning in a group contributes to creativity. In a group there are students with different personality characteristics and this variety will bring diversity of ideas
- Advantages of peer collaboration. Students learn how to support each other, overcome shyness, get rid of complexes and discover leadership qualities in themselves
Additional research on group learning and collaborative learning concurs with this teacher’s experience. There is a short review of the main research given in the Teaching Effectiveness Program: Benefits of Collaborative Learning.
In summary, Collaborative Learning:
- Builds Self-Esteem in Students (Johnson & Johnson)
- Enhances Student Satisfaction with the Learning Experience
- Promotes a Positive Attitude Toward the Subject Matter
- Additional benefits: CL is especially useful in Foreign Language and ESL courses where interactions involving use of the language through speaking are important.
While it is true that 1:1 tutoring is more effective than large, passive group classes, research indicates small collaborative groups result in the best outcomes, this is particularly true of language education due to the strong benefits of Social Learning .
From a business model point of view it is also is far more efficient to deliver small group classes, so teaching small online group classes really is a win-win situation.
LearnCube’s Online Virtual Classroom Software makes it easy to facilitate collaborative learning. Student can take turns to present tasks in class. You can use the interactive whiteboard for real-time activities, which may be as simple as working on a crossword puzzle in pairs, forming debating teams, or more informally as an open discussion about a movie or podcast.