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Group effect

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Making sure that students assimilate what they are taught is a major task of teachers. 

Students get the greatest benefits when they are able to assimilate knowledge in answering exam questions or solving life problems.

Yet teachers find this task daunting. Often, teachers believe that this is achievable by only a few select students in the class. The rest are usually thought to be incapable of absorbing and effectively using what they are exposed to, but this situation can be changed.

Teachers understand that learning is enhanced by addressing the needs of the human psyche to operate in groups. Apart from bridging social-emotional gaps among students, learning in groups improves students' ability to acquire, extend and use knowledge instinctively.

Discuss, don't lecture

This is supported by the research conducted by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin, who is also recognised as the founder of social psychology. The study was the first of its kind as it assessed group decision-making on the attitudes of women toward certain foodstuffs. In his early investigation, Lewin divided a group of housewives into a lecture group and a discussion group. The objective of doing this was to change the women's attitude toward a set of food items which they do not normally eat.

The first group was lectured on the various nutritional values of the food items and how they could be cooked in appetising ways. The second group was asked to discuss the subject as a group with a nutritional expert. Each group was then asked how many of its members planned to try these food items. A follow-up study was later carried out on the subsequent buying behaviour of the housewives.

It was found that 3 percent of those in the lecture group had cooked and served the food items, while 32 percent of those involved in the discussion did so. The results of the study clearly reveal that people working in groups tend to be more persuaded about an idea or concept compared to when they are given a sales speech (or lecture).

Application

Persuasion involves a great deal of interaction with the materials being discussed, modification of one's existing or prior knowledge and personal justification (which could be emotional and/or rational) for adopting a new idea. Group discussions improve the assimilation and increases the usage of knowledge across subjects and learning environments.

Kurt Lewin's research findings apply directly to educational settings, particularly to teaching and learning, because attitude change involves cognitive, emotional and behavioural components. In other words, when people commit to discussing, thinking and arguing about a concept and eventually taking their own stand, their learning of that concept is more effective, compared to when they listen to lectures by a so-called expert.

Additionally, a positive change in cognition (thinking) leads to changes in emotion and behaviour. Group discussions improve students' capacity to acquire and use knowledge meaningfully, and it also changes their feelings toward the subject, the teacher and the overall learning process. The same is reflected in the succeeding positive behaviours displayed by students. Students whose attitude toward learning is positive tend to enjoy learning and behave in ways that bring about enduring success.

Changing the trend

Teachers who encourage group discussions provide equal opportunities to more students in a class to understand lessons and succeed in exams. As was seen in Lewin's research, the 3 percent (lecture group) versus 32 percent (group discussion) result shows why students who are lectured to tend to underperform compared to students who are allowed to actively interact with study materials through group discussions.


Dr Edward Roy Krishnan is the director of Kent Thailand, Institute of Business & Technology (www.kentthailand.com). He also lectures in the Graduate School of Psychology, Assumption University. He can be contacted at edwardmsia@gmail.com . To access additional articles by him, visit http://www.affectiveteaching.com .

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