Online Group Work Design

Online Group Work Design

Problem:  Many online faculty report difficulty with the performance of online groups – the difficulty ranges from non-responsive group members to inequity in carrying out work assignments.

Concept:   In How Learning Works the authors suggest, “to develop mastery, students must [1.] acquire component skills, [2.] practice integrating them, and [3.] know when to apply what they have learned” (Ambrose, et al, 2010).  In the case of functioning effectively in an online group, could it be that the poor performance of some learners is the result of inadequate component skill development?  Again from “How Learning Works”, “If students lack the critical component skills-or if their command of those skills is weak-their performance on the overall task suffers” (Resnick as cited by Ambrose et al 2010).  Additionally, Johnson and Johnson (n.d.) write, “You are not born with group skills, nor do they magically appear when you need them; you have to learn them. Group skills are learned just as any other skill is learned.  Learning how to lead a group is no different from learning how to play the piano or throw a football.”

Application:  Develop embedded learning activities within an online course that facilitate the acquisition and application of component skills needed to function effectively in an online group.   Example:

       Weeks (+/-) 1 thru 4: Acquire – provide instruction and resources on group component skills:

  • How to discern the purpose of the group and the group assignment
  • Characteristics of good group members:
    • Accountability
    • Required positive social skills
    • Maintaining and building good relationships
  • Anticipating problems
  • Building an Effective Group
  • Communicating with Group Members
  • Making Group Decisions
  • Handling Disagreement
  • Becoming a Leader in a Group
  • Basic Elements of Effective Group Work
  • Self-evaluation

       Weeks (+/-) 5 thru 8: Practice – provide opportunities for the learners to integrate the component skills together and practice using them in low risk, well coached situations.

       Weeks (+/-) 9 thru 12: Apply – participate in a group project using the integration of the component skills into a viable purposeful and meaningful project.

       Far Transfer – include a means for learners to apply what they have learned once the instruction is completed and the context of the skill application in the real world is different.

Reference list:

      Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., Norman, M. K., (2010), How Learning Works, Pg 95.

      Johnson, D. & Johnson, F. (n.d.) retrieved from

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