How Collaborative Learning Helps Students Flourish - Kingswood Oxford

Big Thinkers Blog

January 14, 2019

How Collaborative Learning Helps Students Flourish

Jackie Pisani, Director of Marketing and Communications


Humans are social beings and yet we, especially in the US, valorize the individual. There’s plenty of stories of the lone genius toiling away to make a miraculous breakthrough in medicine or technology. Although these stories are a testament to the endurance of the human spirit, it only tells part of the story. Remember when Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call, someone had to pick up the phone on the other end. The point is: no one goes it alone.

As industry becomes more complex, the economy needs individuals who are not only technically bright and capable but more importantly, it requires people with the soft skills and talents to work in teams to achieve a common goal. According to Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, authors of TheWisdom of Teams,management in organizations of the future will “seek faster, better ways to match resources to customer opportunity or competitive challenge, the critical building block will be at the team, not the individual, level.”

Forbes Magazine noted a recent joint study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College that “found that companies that promoted collaborative working were five times as likely to be high performing.” In order for businesses to prosper, companies will seek individuals who thrive in a give-and-take environment and who work well with others.

At Kingswood Oxford, collaborative learning is not just a pedagogical buzz-word but a common practice across disciplines. We’ve found that collaborative learning not only aids in a student’s grasp of the material but helps them develop important social and emotional skills and bolsters a student’s sense of belonging.


Deeper Learning

A randomized controlled trial performed in an undergraduate biochemistry course at Columbia University in 2015 showed that the students who worked in groups versus those that worked individually performed equally as well on exams that asked basic recall questions. However, the team-based learning students significantly outperformed the other students when it came to answering questions in which the students had to apply the knowledge learned to a new context.  These “predict questions” required more complex reasoning and problem-solving and asked the students to dig deeper and deduce the answers to a problem. Collaboration provides the ability to solve more complex problems because students are able to share with one another gaps in knowledge, offer different perspectives, and persist through challenging material past the point where they may surrender as an individual.

One student’s Powerpoint might be another student’s Prezi. Everyone comes to a group from a different point of view. By working in teams, students must learn how to give and take in order to build a consensus for the project to be successful.

Leaders in groups take all forms. It’s not always the person with the loudest, most persistent voice. Some students find their “power” in setting the pace to motivate the group. Another student may establish the standards for excellence. Everyone has an individual strength to add to the collective.

Time Management
Timing is everything. Knowing that the group is counting on you for a portion of a project makes a student more accountable for their time management. In a world of deadlines, students learn the disciplined action of carving out a schedule, planning effectively, showing up on time and coming prepared to a group meeting.

The best work results from groups members who practice empathy. To address a challenge or to tackle a project, the group members must listen to and understand the needs of the other which engender respect. By working constructively together, building trust and developing relationships, students can better share their ideas, test them out and problem solve along the way.  This process increases engagement and understanding of the material.

Modern teamwork requires interdependence, not a top-down approach where one group leader calls the shots.  Open lines of cross-communication are essential in collaborative learning so that the individual and the group are performing well.

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