Making sure that students assimilate what they are taught is one of the most important preoccupations of teachers. When students are successful in assimilating knowledge, they are able to use them meaningfully, either to answer exam questions, or face real-life situations.
Yet teachers find this task daunting. Often, teachers believe that this is only achievable by a few select students in the class. The rest are usually thought to be incapable of absorbing and using what they are exposed to. This situation could be remedied and changed.
Teachers need to understand that learning is enhanced by systematically approaching and addressing the needs of the human psyche to operate in groups. Apart from bridging social-emotional gaps among students, learning in groups significantly improves students’ ability to acquire, extend and use knowledge instinctively.
This is supported by the research conducted by German-American psychologist, who is also recognized as the founder of social psychology, Kurt Lewin. The study was 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 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 about the various nutritional values of the food items and how they could be cooked in appetizing manner. The second group on the other hand 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. In addition, a follow-up study was carried out on the subsequent buying behavior of the housewives.
It was found that 3 per cent of those in the lecture group had cooked and served the food items, while 32 per cent 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).
Persuasion involves a great deal of interaction with materials being discussed, examination and re-examination of one’s existing or prior knowledge and personal justification (either emotional and/or rational) for choosing to believe in or adopt a new idea. Group discussions improve the processes involved in the assimilation and usage of knowledge across subjects and learning environments.
Kurt Lewin’s research findings apply directly to educational setting, particularly to teaching and learning because attitude change involves cognitive, emotional and behavioral aspects. In other words, when people commit to discussing, thinking, arguing about a concept and eventually taking their own stand, their learning of that concept is more effective compared to when they are being lectured to by a so-called expert.
Additionally, a positive change in cognition (thinking) leads to changes in emotion and behavior. Group discussions improve students’ capacity to acquire and use knowledge meaningfully and also changes their feelings toward the subject, teacher, and overall learning process. The same is reflected in the succeeding positive behaviors displayed by students. Students whose attitude toward learning is positive tend to enjoy learning and behave in ways that bring about enduring success, academically and otherwise.
Shifting the trend
Teachers who encourage group discussions provide equal opportunities to more (if not all) students in a class to understand lessons and succeed in exams. As was seen in Lewin’s research, the 3 per cent (lecture group) versus 32 per cent (group discussion) result clearly shows why students who are lectured to tend to under-perform compared to students who are allowed to actively interact with study materials through group discussions.