Teaching Resources

Benefits of Group Work

Resource Overview

Why using group work in your class can improve student learning

There are several benefits for including group work in your class.  Sharing these benefits with your students in a transparent manner helps them understand how group work can improve learning and prepare them for life experiences (Taylor 2011).  The benefits of group work include the following:

  • Students engaged in group work, or cooperative learning, show increased individual achievement compared to students working alone. For example, in their meta-analysis examining over 168 studies of undergraduate students, Johnson et al. (2014) determined that students learning in a collaborative situation had greater knowledge acquisition, retention of material, and higher-order problem solving and reasoning abilities than students working alone. There are several reasons for this difference. Students’ interactions and discussions with others allow the group to construct new knowledge, place it within a conceptual framework of existing knowledge, and then refine and assess what they know and do not know. This group dialogue helps them make sense of what they are learning and what they still need to understand or learn (Ambrose et al. 2010; Eberlein et al. 2008). In addition, groups can tackle more complex problems than individuals can and thus have the potential to gain more expertise and become more engaged in a discipline (Qin et al 1995; Kuh 2007). Group work creates more opportunities for critical thinking and can promote student learning and achievement.
  • Student group work enhances communication and other professional development skills. Estimates indicate that 80% of all employees work in group settings (Attle & Baker 2007). Therefore, employers value effective oral and written communication skills as well as the ability to work effectively within diverse groups (ABET 2016-2017; Finelli et al. 2011).  Creating facilitated opportunities for group work in your class allows students to enhance their skills in working effectively with others (Bennett & Gadlin 2012; Jackson et al. 2014). Group work gives students the opportunity to engage in process skills critical for processing information, and evaluating and solving problems, as well as management skills through the use of roles within groups, and assessment skills involved in assessing options to make decisions about their group’s final answer. All of these skills are critical to successful teamwork both in the classroom and the workplace.

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. Criteria for accrediting Engineering Programs (ABET), 2016-2017 http://www.abet.org/accreditation/accreditation-criteria/criteria-for-accrediting-engineering-programs-2016-2017/

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Attle, S., & Baker, B. 2007 Cooperative learning in a competitive environment: Classroom applications. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education19(1), 77-83.

Bennett, L. M., & Gadlin, H. (2012). Collaboration and team science. Journal of Investigative Medicine60(5), 768-775.

Davidson, N., & Major, C. H. (2014). Boundary crossings: Cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and problem-based learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching25(3/4), 7-55.

Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R. S., Platt, T., Varma‐Nelson, P., & White, H. B. (2008). Pedagogies of engagement in science. Biochemistry and molecular biology education36(4), 262-273.

Finelli, C. J., Bergom, I., & Mesa, V. (2011). Student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond: Setting up students for success. CRLT Occasional Papers29.

Jackson, D., Sibson, R., & Riebe, L. (2014). Undergraduate perceptions of the development of team-working skills. Education+ Training56(1), 7-20.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in University Teaching25(4), 1-26.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K., & Hayek, J. C. (2007). Piecing Together the Student Success Puzzle: Research, Propositions, and Recommendations. ASHE Higher Education Report, Volume 32, Number 5. ASHE Higher Education Report32(5), 1-182.

Qin, Z., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1995). Cooperative versus competitive efforts and problem solving. Review of educational Research, 65(2), 129-143.

Taylor, A. (2011). Top 10 reasons students dislike working in small groups… and why I do it anyway. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education39(3), 219-220.