Effective Group Dynamics in E-Learning: Case Study

Fisher, M., Thompson, G.S., & Silverberg, D.A. (2004-5) Effective Group Dynamics in E-Learning: Case Study. Journal of Educational Technology Systems 33 (3) pp. 205-22

“Investigating the participant structure that works in online courses helps us design for, and facilitate, collaboration.  Learning communities and group work influence collaboration in online courses. We present an exploratory study of computer-mediated groups that used this model to participate in an online MA program in Educational Technology.  These participants were organized into groups and collaboratively built knowledge through synchronous and asynchronous online dialogue while leveraging technology as a tool for individual and collaborative learning. We present a detailed case study collected over a two-year span to identify design ideas structures, and perceptions of effective collaboration and performance.  Group formation, support, and sustainability are also explored.  Examples are included that not only describe what participants saw as enabling aspects of the structure but also ways in which novice instructors can enhance curriculum development around readings and online discussion.  These finding indicate a high index of collaboration and completion compare to homogenous classes where students work on their own” (p. 205).

Snapshot:  Whereas there are one or two things I got from this article, there are also several that fly in the face of conventional research on this subject.  In fact, two of the issues the authors state as fact are diametrically opposed to what most research shows.  The N is only 51 on this, which seems small to me to make some of the generalizations the authors make and there is no literature review or even significant literature support for many of their statements.  For instance, on page 210 they note that small groups foster playful interaction. Playful interaction? They don’t even detail what that might mean, let alone if anyone else, ever, found the same thing.  On page 212, the authors claim that random selection is best for forming students.


  • “Socrates noted that a teacher is only a midwife to students, who must carry out the labor of learning themselves” (p. 205).
  • “The private sector and various other areas are increasingly making decisions in groups.  This approach is becoming more than a trend, it’s becoming a necessity.  Group learning introduces students to the type of experiences they are likely to encounter in the world of work” (p. 211).
  • “The community interaction builds not only a sense of collegiality, but also encourages a high level of professionalism.  This professionalism is then translated from the learning environment to the workplace” (p. 211).

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