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Organize group work

Why group work?

Collaborative assignments help students learn course content in more active and engaged ways (Burke, 2011). At the same time, group work strategies and attitudes relative to working with peers are often mentioned as another motivator towards the future employment of students (Demosthenous et al.,2020). This is also based on the idea that during the collaborative task, students need to use and further develop skills in discussing, arguing and reflecting which can lead to richer and more meaningful learning. Collaborative learning takes on many forms but all demand a certain shared effort from a group where the individuals in the group feel a commitment to apply themselves to a shared goal or question (Kirschner et al., 2011). One final note to the benefits of group learning: on average, small-group learning corresponds to higher achievement than individual learning or whole-group learning (Schneider, & Preckel, 2017).

 Pros of group work

Besides the overarching goals of group work, we can identify some advantages for choosing group assignments over individual assignments, as defined by Burke (2011):

  1. Because of the variety in background and experience of its members, groups often have more (access to) information and knowledge than individuals. 

  2. Groups can stimulate shared creativity.

  3. Group discussions foster learning and comprehension. Students who learn in groups often retain information longer and better than when taught in other instructional formats. 

  4. When solving (difficult) problems together, students often report higher satisfaction in courses.

  5. Students gain a better understanding of themselves as they work with others.

  6. Developing interpersonal skills and group work strategies is highly valued by future employers.

 Cons of group work
  1. Good group discussions may not always happen depending on the members of the group and when people tend to conform to the majority opinion or avoid conflict. 

  2. This is especially true when one or two persons are very dominant in the group and the group discussions, which might also facilitate free-riding behaviours of others.

  3. One of the most salient problems is people relying on others to do most of the work while taking the same credit for it. 

  4. The above are some reasons why some people will cringe when facing group work and develop ‘group-hate’.

How to make group

  1. Success in group work depends on providing opportunities for connecting and learning in which the shared task, roles and responsibilities are clear and understood by all and where there is a commitment to a shared purpose or goal (Nipp, & Palenque, 2017). 

  2. For group work size and composition, please watch our video tutorial.

  3. Roles can occur naturally as emerging/self-regulating, but can also be scripted roles (Strijbos & Weinberger, 2010). Scripts can specify roles and facilitate role rotation for students so they engage in group work activities. Finally, small-group learning is more effective when each learner has individual responsibilities within his or her group, and when the learners can only solve the task through cooperation (Slavin, 1983). Also create a schedule for group members to rotate their roles and responsibilities. Some examples of roles you could initiate are: 


Managing group tasks and keeping the group on task


Prepares meetings, keeps track of who does what and the work process, keeps notes.


Prepares presentations and presents ideas and products to the class


Finding, collecting, analyzing and organizing resources


Reviews group work and products, provides feedback and rewrites

4. Make clear, in advance, if and how the group and its members will be assessed (Burke, 2011).

5. Provide students with strategies, methods and examples on how they can work together on a task when designing the group assignment, teach students how to work in a group, delegate tasks or structure their work together. This might also mean that the process in the groups needs to be monitored somehow. 

Task-design and group work

The success of small-group learning critically depends on choosing appropriate tasks, taking into account task complexity and group interdependence.


It is important to think about the task-design itself. Working in groups takes time and effort. When a task or assignment is relatively easy, the cognitive load for an individual student will not be very high. This also means that the motivation to collaborate and invest time and effort in group work will not be very high either. However, when tasks or problem sets get more complex and even very difficult, the strain on the individual's cognitive abilities becomes too high, creating a need to collaborate and exchange thoughts with others (Kirschner et al., 2011). This means that the design of a collaborative learning task or project is very important. If you have a task with low complexity, group work may not be the right form and the task is probably better done individually. If you have a task or project with high complexity than group work is an excellent choice,

The task needs to be complex enough that students cannot solve it on their own but not so complex that it is unfeasible for the group to succeed.


The task needs to create a positive interdependence among all group members. Meaning that students should be rewarded when collaborating, by being able to complete the task. If there is no interdepence, students do not need their peers to complete the task. If there is negative interdependence, students are rewarded if they outperform their peers. This will create deconstructive competition.

Whom to contact?

Contact EDU Support or your faculty's Embedded Expert from ESI for tailored didactic advice in using these suggestions in your teaching. For technical assistance please contact Nestorsupport.


Burke, A.S. (2011). Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11, 87-95.

Demosthenous, G., Panaoura, A., & Eteokleous N. (2020). The use of collaborative assignment in online learning environments: The case of higher education. International Journal of Technology in Education and Science (IJTES), 4(2), 108-117.

Kirschner, F., Paas, F., & Kirschner, P.A. (2011). Task complexity as a driver for collaborative learning efficiency: The collective working-memory effect. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 615–624.

Nipp, M.B., & Palenque, S.M. (2017). Strategies for Successful Group Work. Journal of Instructional Research, 6, 42-45.    

Schneider, M., & Preckel, F. (2017). Variables associated with achievement in higher education: A systematic review of meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 143(6), 565–600.

Strijbos, J. W., & Weinberger, A. (2010). Emerging and scripted roles in computer-supported collaborative learning. Computers in human behavior, 26(4), 491-494.  

Last modified: 18 November 03:17 PM
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