Small Group Work

Small Group Work

Small group work can be just as effective online as it is in the traditional classroom. In many cases it can be more effective because students are not subject to external factors such as shyness, gender, disabilities, geography, etc.

Students can share their ideas while analyzing other input from fellow group members. On Bloom’s Taxonomy, small group activities are placed in the categories of (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) higher intellectual activities). The collaboration among group members can continue at any time through instant messengers, chat rooms, and discussion boards.

You can implement small group work and encourage communication tools such as chat rooms and instant messengers for students to communicate with each other.

LMS’s have their own chat features that allows application sharing which can be useful.  Just remember that many people take online courses for different reasons so scheduling required tasks in a live chat can throw a lot of people off schedule and many times defeats the purpose of online courses.  You could encourage small groups to utilize the eCollege chat and let them decide how to schedule the meeting.

Application and Examples

  1. Role play and Simulations can help to give students real-world application. For example, you may put students in groups of 3 and give each student a role; Web Designer, Graphic Designer, Content Designer. Then give them a problem. ” You have been assigned to create a web page for Dean Foods. They need three pages complete with graphics, content about their new soy milk product, and a navigational scheme. Coordinate a plan with your group members and follow through with the plan. Post your completed website in the discussion area. That group must now figure out how they are to carry out the plan. There are many uses for role play simulations. Be creative! Switch the roles for another assignment so that each student has the opportunity to be the project manager. On Dale’s Cone of Experience, simulations are the next best thing to “doing” the actual experience in real life.
  2. Guided Design activities encourage students to solve open-ended problems that require them to gather information, think logically, communicate ideas, and apply steps in a decision-making process. The instructor is there to act as a consultant and facilitator during this small group activity. Example: Solve a problem… Research a problem and report your findings… etc.
  3. Games and Competition exercises can be implemented. For example, in a business class, you could assign groups and have them communicate through a discussion or role play to finish a project. At the same time you could have 4 other groups competing to complete the same project. You can offer a reward to the group that does the best job based on your criteria. There are many ways to incorporate games and competition into your strategy.
  4. Cooperative learningis a group activity that is divided into 3 concepts:
    1. Group Rewards
    2. Individual Accountability
    3. Equal Opportunity for Success
Online Forums

Online Forums

The online forums instructional strategy.

Forums come in two variations :

1) Panel

2) Symposium

The panel is a small group of subject matter experts (around 3 to 6 people) who sit (or sit virtually) in front of an audience and carry on a purposeful conversation on a topic brought up by the moderator (or the instructor). Audience interaction is usually not available.

Ideas for application:

  1. Gather a group of experts, colleagues, peers, or equally competent subject area gurus.
  2. Create a discussion topic related to your class, subject, concept, or chapter section.
  3. Pose a question to the panel in the discussion board.
  4. Allow the panel to post their thoughts.
  5. Guide the panel through your questions or areas in which you feel the students should be concentrating on the most.
  6. Students can watch the discussion taking place.
  7. When the discussion has ended, pose a follow up question to the students and require them to answer your question and discuss with other students in the discussion board.

*Note: Synchronous chat rooms can also be used, however the logistics of gathering 3 or more working professionals in a room at the same time to type responses to questions can often be time consuming and hard to manage. In a discussion board, the experts have more time to respond, think about their experiences, and post their thoughts without being pressed for time.

The symposium involves a small group (around 2 to 5 people) of experts in a given subject area who give presentations and take questions from the audience afterwards. They then move on to the next layer related to that subject area. The process is repeated. Students are allowed to “pick the brains” of the subject experts so they can gather a deeper understanding of the material seen through the eyes of someone working in the field.

Ideas for application:

  1. Gather a group of experts, colleagues, peers, or equally competent subject area gurus.
  2. Create a discussion topic related to your class, subject, concept, or chapter section.
  3. Allow the experts to present the subject in the discussion board. You may choose to moderate and guide the experts with questions.
  4. When the experts have finished their presentations and discussion, open the discussion to students so they can ask questions of the experts.
Online Discussions

Online Discussions

Instructional Strategy: Online Discussions

The asynchronous discussion strategy adheres to online learning in many ways. Students have more time to think about their answers and research areas in which they do not understand. When they have a clear grasp of the content, they can post a detailed analysis of their findings through writing. This luxury of time to think and learn is not available in your traditional course environment.

Discussion Boards are often used to discuss concepts, elaborate on ideas, current events, synthesis, research, simulate application/role play, or talk about non-class issues. The instructor will usually post the instructions in a new topic of a discussion and the students will follow those instructions to post their findings, thoughts, etc. It is a good idea to encourage students to reply to each other to stimulate a discussion and explore new ideas. To avoid destructive behavior, Acceptable Use Agreements may be used.

Excerpt from “Ten Ways Online Education Matches, or Surpasses, Face to Face Learning by Mark Kassop

“Academics have recognized for years the shortcomings of the faculty-centered classroom, but it has been difficult to break away from the paradigm. Whether the classroom instructor uses lecture, discussions, role playing, small group activities, or any other technique, it is still the instructor running the show. In an online environment, however, the instructor soon takes a back seat. Students are empowered to learn on their own and even to teach one another. Particularly in the discussion group mode, students have the opportunity to explain, share, comment upon, critique, and develop course materials among themselves in a manner rarely seen in the F2F classroom. In a recent online discussion about the meaning of deviance, students in an Introduction to Sociology course were asked to cite a human behavior that is considered deviant in all cultures. Twenty-five students contributed more than 125 responses in a week-long exchange in which various students suggested that rape, murder, homosexuality, terrorism, child abuse, and other behaviors are universally deviant. Other students noted how certain cultural contexts could make any of those behaviors (and all other behaviors) nondeviant to one or more groups of people, depending on their perspectives. Students served as instructors to their classmates, and together they worked toward learning goals more effectively than if they had been provided with the answer by the instructor.”

Application Examples:

1) Peer Evaluations can be incorporated into a discussion. For example a student may post their paper (through an attachment) in the discussion board and have other students evaluate his/her work. The student can then post a reply or constructive feedback in the discussion.

2) Critical thinking/current event exercises are also used in discussions. For example, you might require your students to read a chapter on the Economy then have them post in the discussion the effect that war has on the economy, and possible economy recovery options. You can then give participation points to students who reply and participate.

3) Research links for further discussion are a great way to take advantage of the information available on the internet. For example, you may post a new discussion that has 10 links to other web sites. Then in your instructions you might say, “Compare these 10 sources. Out of these sources, which one is the most reliable and why? Post your findings in the discussion area and reply to your fellow students.”

4) Cyber Cafe – Create a place where students can relax and talk about anything. You may start off the discussion with a description of yourself and your family. Encourage students to do the same. This is a great place for students to get to know each other.

Self Directed Learning

Self Directed Learning

Self-directed learning is a proactive initiative taken by the student to direct their own learning. Independent studies, individualized learning, self-paced instruction, and many forms of online activities, etc. are all examples of self directed learning. Pro-active learners tend to retain more information because they actively seek out resources readily available to them resulting in a more meaningful and purposeful learning experience. Their opposite, passive or reactive learners wait for the instructor to tell them what they need know. Proactive self-directed learners on the other hand seek out knowledge based on the objectives, exercises, or assignments given to them.

In regards to online teaching, the self-directed approach weaves in nicely with the environment. The students are allowed to set up their own time to actively seek out new knowledge. Because of the vast amount of information available on the web, students will often run into several different viewpoints on a subject, see how something works, watch a video or interview, take virtual tours, and have access to the library all while sitting in the comfort of their own home.

We all have engaged in some form of self-directed learning at some point in our lives. Whether it be working on an engine, shopping for the best price at the mall, following a recipe, etc. You will probably agree that you have retained much of that information that you actively sought out.

An Overview of Instructional Strategies

An Overview of Instructional Strategies

How do we get there?

Learning is an active process in which the learner constructs meaningful relations between the new knowledge presented in the instruction and the learner’s existing knowledge. A well designed instructional strategy prompts or motivates the learner actively to make these connections between what the learner already knows and the new information (Kemp, Morrison, Ross).

You have been exposed to instructional strategies ever since you started going to school. You have been developing them since you started teaching. An instructional strategy is simply the method of teaching that ensures your students achieve the mastery of the subject matter. In what ways are you going to ensure that your students master the learning objectives? What activities, exercises, projects, etc will you use to aid in the learning process- and how can you make meaningful connections with what your learners already know? This is your instructional strategy.

In regards to online learning, many of the instructional strategies you use in your traditional classroom will transfer over to the online environment. Choosing which strategy to use to achieve mastery of an objective involves knowing what is available technologically, and what has been proven to work and be effective.

In this section, we will talk about the main strategies being used in education today. Below is a list of various instructional strategies we will cover.

  • Learning Contracts
  • Lectures
  • Discussion Format
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Mentorship
  • Small Group Work
  • Project Based
  • Case Study
  • Forum

*Note: These instructional strategies are used in all forms of education and are not limited to online education.

Writing Effective Objectives – The ABCD’s of Objective Writing

There are many ways to write effective objectives. This particular technique is very easy to remember and is quite effective.

There are 4 components of an objective that most agree need to be included. The example below is based on a psychomotor skill.

The ABCD’s of Objective Writing

A = (Audience) – Who is it that you are teaching?
Example: The learner…

B – (Behavior) – What is it that they will be able to do?
Example: The learner will be able to dribble a basketball…

C = (Condition) – What circumstances or condition does the learner have to be in in order to complete your requirement?
Example: The learner will be able to dribble a basketball with one hand and both eyes closed…

D= (Degree) – How good does it have to be done?
Example: The learner will be able to dribble a basketball with one hand and both eyes closed for 20 seconds…

Completed Objective:

“The learner will be able to dribble a basketball with one hand and both eyes closed for 20 seconds. ”

As you can see the objective is very descriptive. It tells the student exactly what they need to do in order to complete or meet the criteria. Using this method of writing objectives online will help your students focus on what they need to learn.

The Psychomotor Domain – Get Physical

The psychomotor domain encompasses the skills requiring the use and coordination of skeletal muscles, as in the physical activities of performing, manipulating, and constructing (Kemp, Morrison, Ross).

Psychomotor skills are typically more observable, easier to describe, and measure in terms of evaluation. There is no taxonomy that is accepted universally for this domain. A very popular model for the psychomotor domain was established by R.H. Dave.

  • Imitation: Observing and patterning behavior after someone else. Performance may be of low quality. Example: Copying a work of art.
  • Manipulation: Being able to perform certain actions by following instructions and practicing.
    Example: Creating work on one’s own, after taking lessons, or reading about it.
  • Precision: Refining, becoming more exact. Few errors are apparent.
    Example: Working and reworking something, so it will be “just right.”
  • Articulation: Coordinating a series of actions, achieving harmony and internal consistency.
    Example: Producing a video that involves music, drama, color, sound, etc.
  • Naturalization: Having high level performance become natural, without needing to think much about it.
    Examples: Michael Jordan playing basketball, Nancy Lopez hitting a golf ball, etc.

pscyhomotor domain

The Affective Domain – Changing Views

The Affective domain involves objectives concerning attitudes, appreciations, values, and emotions such as enjoying, conserving, and respecting (Kemp, Morrison, Ross).

Bloom identified 5 basic categories for writing objectives within the Affective domain.

  1. Receiving – Being aware of or attending to something in the environment.
  2. Responding – Showing some new behavior as a result of experience.
  3. Valuing – Showing some definite involvement or commitment.
  4. Organization – Integrating a new value into one’s general set of values, giving it some ranking among one’s general priorities.
  5. Characterization by value – acting consistently with the new value.

the affective domain

* This may be the domain that is the most difficult to write objectives for because they are more difficult to observe and evaluate.

How does the learner feel after the instruction?

  • The presentation about the effects of smoking to 15 year old smokers changed their attitude towards continuing to smoke.
  • Students are enthusiastic about learning new software.
  • The learners will have a new found respect for farmers in Illinois.
  • The student will show interest in the field of radiology after the presentation.

The Cognitive Domain – Brain Power

The Cognitive domain includes objectives that are related to information or knowledge. This is the domain which receives the most attention of all three domains. The cognitive domain includes objectives related to information or knowledge, naming, solving, predicting, and other intellectual aspects of learning. (Kemp, Morrison, Ross).

Benjamin Bloom categorized the cognitive domain into two sub-domains for writing objectives.

1) Simple Recall or Knowledge – Define, duplicate, list, memorize, recall, repeat, reproduce, etc.
2) Intellectual Activities – Comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

See the illustration below.

the coginitive domain


* The challenge here is to direct learners out of the lowest cognitive level of recalling information, and into the five higher intellectual levels. This is all achieved through your objectives and activities used to achieve the objective.

Global Learners – Learning Style

Global Learners

  • Students who fall into this category tend to absorb the material at random- seeing no connections until out of nowhere “getting it” and experiencing “AH-HA!” moments.
  • They may be able to solve complex problems after they have “gotten it” but tend to have difficulty explaining how they did it.


To accommodate this learning style, instructors may include a summary of what is to be learned before the lesson. Instructors may also help students make relationships between the material and the students’ life. This may help the student to grasp the information more quickly.

  1. Sequential and Global Learning Styles