For some of us, the thought of participating in group work can bring us out in a cold sweat. However, it is something that we've all probably had to experience, and most likely more than once! While you may not favour the thought of working with other people over completing the work on your own, group work does have a lot of benefits when used correctly.
Not all types of teaching or training lend themselves to group work, but if it is something you're asked to participate in, you should look at how you can get the most from the situation. Just because it may be out of your comfort zone doesn't mean it won't help you in your educational journey.
Don't Work With the Same People
When your teacher or trainer announces you will be doing some group work, it can be tempting to work with people you're familiar with. Whether this is people you are friends with, or just people you've work with before, it is easy to be drawn towards going with the same people time after time. However, this isn't the most beneficial way to participate in group work.
It's a good idea to mix up who you work with for a number of reasons. The most basic reason is it's nice to get to know everyone you are taking a class with. You may only know a few people when you start, but I'm sure you don't want to finish the class only really knowing those same people. It's nice to meet different people and get the chance to interact with them, so don't be drawn to sticking with your friends.
Another reason it's good to work with people you don't know, is they might give a totally different viewpoint on the work you are completing. If you work with the same people over and over again, chances are you'll be quite familiar with how they all think and how you work in a group. If you mix in some different people however, they will all have different thoughts and opinions on the work you've been given. Getting this chance to discuss the work from a different angle may let you see a completely different side and give you a better understanding of the course material.
Group work is designed to let you work through the problem as a team instead of individually, so take advantage of this and work with as many different people as possible. Talking through the same question with different people is sure to provide very different answers and opinions, so give yourself the chance to gain as much knowledge from the rest of the class as possible.
Split the Work Evenly
Depending on how you usually work, group work can lead people to behave in extremes. Some people are so used to working individually that they end up taking over the whole group and doing most of the work themselves. While this may seem quite controlling, other people are quite happy to sit back and lets someone else take over, as long as it means they get out of doing some work themselves.
Obviously neither of these extreme behaviours are ideal, as you really want to make sure everyone in the group is doing roughly the same amount of work. Letting someone take over may seem tempting if they really want to do all of the work, but it means you won't get the benefit of working in a group, as you're basically just sitting around while someone else completes the assignment. You're missing out on the valuable discussions that come up when you're working as part of a group.
Likewise, if you're the person who likes to do everything themselves, you're also missing out. Not only will you be placing a lot of pressure on yourself to get all the work done, you also won't get the chance to see other people's point of view on the subject, and will leave with the same opinions and knowledge that you went into the task with.
Your teacher or trainer has decided to make this task a group activity for a reason, so it's important to consider that if you're thinking about just going it alone. They obviously see the benefit to group discussions and splitting the work up, so try to complete the task as they have asked you to.
It may be a good idea to sit down at the start of the task and try and split the work up so everyone is doing their bit. It's true that some contributions may be larger than others, but the important part is to make sure that everyone is actively participating. You may also want to find out what people's strengths are and see if those can be connected to parts of the task. It's important to set the guidelines right at the start of the task, so everyone knows what's expected of them, and no one can say they didn't know how much or how little they were supposed to do.
Keep the Trainer Involved
While group work is supposed to let the students work independently, that doesn't mean you need to leave your trainer completely out of the equation. It's important to keep them involved if you're experiencing trouble in the group instead of just powering along and hoping for the best.
There could be a number of things you want to make your trainer aware of, such as certain members of the group not pulling their weight, or perhaps some people have stopped showing up for meetings. It's important to raise these concerns with your trainer as soon as they crop up, as you want to make sure that you're getting as much benefit from the class as possible. This will also give your trainer the chance to address these issues, and perhaps chat to people who aren't participating before things get too out of hand.
Don't be afraid to raise an issue if it's causing you trouble, as you want to make sure that nothing is disrupting your learning experience.
Equally, if you're feeling completely stuck on part of your group work assignment, don't be afraid to ask for further clarification. There's no point in your whole group trying to complete the assignment blindly rather than take the time to ask for a little more explanation. You're trainer should be happy to provide additional information if it's what you need to feel fully prepared to start your group work.
Whether you look at group work as something exciting or something you dread, it's important to look at how you can get the most out of it. As with any learning activity, it's important to complete it to the best of your ability. Even if group work isn't your favourite thing in the world, make sure you work it to your advantage. If you put these tips into practise and have a really positive experience next time you take part in group work, you'll know exactly what to do going forward to make sure group work is an effective learning tool.