Distance learning group work is often a challenging task for many online learners. Reasons abound for the complexity associated with this type of online learning assignment; however, group projects are manageable even with all the stories you may have heard from others. The key to success boils down to one basic principle – communication. This leads to building a bond or sense of community with other members in a group.
Besides communication, successful completion of distance learning group assignments and projects requires a proactive mind-set on your part. Once an online learning group project is assigned and group members are identified, it is essential to contact other members immediately to begin building a community within the group. Positive group dynamics is important to building a successful community relationship.
Group Communications: Establishing a Foundation for Success
Establishing a reliable means of communicating with group members as a hub for sharing and collaboration is the foundation for success in distance learning group projects. The following are tips for developing online learning skills needed for initial and continual communication with group members for project duration.
- Create a forum for your group to communicate within the course management system, i.e., Blackboard, Moodle, Angel, or WebCT. This avoids technology compatibility issues which may arise with other means of sharing ideas and work. Another common problem this avoids is e-mails which cross each other on internet, often causing confusion and delays.
- Getting to know each other is central to collaboration. This is accomplished by sharing photos and member basic information such as educational objectives, career goals, and any knowledge associated with the project. Of course members may want to share additional items of interest with each other to support collaboration.
- Listening is an important characteristic of successful group dynamics. All members of an online group work in isolation, which increases the need to pay attention to anxiety, concerns, and questions others may have within the group. Also, this is an essential skill needed in the work place – the ability to listen.
- A supplemental means of group communication includes the use of Skype for periodic live video chats regarding coordination, concerns, and questions regarding the project.
Online Collaboration: Strategies and Techniques
Beyond the need for establishing reliable communication procedures, specific online collaboration strategies and techniques must be clearly defined. The following tips focus on group dynamics, teamwork, and successful online learning.
- The role of each group member is must be clearly defined and posted in the group forum. This avoids confusion regarding what each group member is responsible for project completion.
- Clearly identify what must be accomplished in the project. Along with establishing who will complete specific tasks, guidelines are needed for each task completion. This is fundamental to equal sharing of work load and successful project completion.
- Each member of the work group needs to clearly understand how their work integrates and contributes to the final project. This avoids a perception of busy work for some and overload of work for other group members.
- Establish procedures and dates for sharing progress updates via the forum. This ensures everyone is working towards the common goal and avoids the temptation to wait until the last minute. Last minute contribution by a group member is a leading contributor of group failure, along with a middle-of-the-road online learning project submission.
- Simplify complex project tasks into manageable steps. This relieves group stress and potential conflicts between group members, along with eliminating concerns some members may have regarding equal sharing of project work load.
- Do not overlap project tasks. This often leads to confusion regarding who is complete these tasks.
These 10 tips for successful group work takes into consideration the isolation every person feels when working on group distance learning projects. The guidelines offered by these strategies and techniques provide a means for resolving problems and conflicts before these issues cause group failure. Avoiding common mistakes in distance education, leads to success with online learning. This is also a skill desired by many employers today, especially in a global economy.