Constructive Learning: Peer-to-Peer Learning Groups

Synchronous Online Learning Groups

I was involved in another successful small group collaborative learning activity last week.  We were required to complete the group project in two parts.

Question: How do you make the most of virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning activities?

My professor really knows how to work it. Last week, he put his doctoral students to the test by making us decrypt his approach to online collaborative learning in two parts. (Yes. You’re right. Professor ain’t playing.)

Effective Student Groupings Makes the Difference

In Part 1, our assignment was to group again (different group members than the week before) and meet synchronously online and outside our class to discuss our thoughts about a really great, but highly cerebral, movie.  (No easy answers. No easy perspectives. No easy agreements with that film.) But, this time, our professor maneuvered his groups past the catharsis (storming) stage by appointing group leaders . With our leaders firmly designated and in place, our small teams were able to avoid the Stage One anxieties associated with “unknown persons“, such as distrust, dependency, curiosity, and confusion. We immediately got down to Stage Two: communications (Tuckerman & Jensen, 1997) .

During our meeting, we each talked from a position of trust, cohesion, interdependence, acceptance, and respect – even when we did not agree. By the end of our meeting, we were able to approach Stage Three disengagement ready to play our respective roles. We knew what needed to be done, how it was to be done, and who would do what (Spitz & Sadock, 1973). That felt good too.

After disengagement, our team fell into Habermas (984) formation.  We used our professor’s strategic written communicative acts to begin our constative communicative actions with each of us understanding exactly what was required for our individualized role in the project.  The next day, we engaged in normative communicative actions asynchronously via email and the discussion board until we negotiated the outline for a working draft for our paper.  The next day, with a few final tweaks, we were able to successfully deliver a dramaturgical communicative action, a short paper, that we all can proudly claim.  In fact, we enjoyed working and learning together so much; we have decided to continue developing the work for a possible future publication.  (Yippee! Scholars-under-construction at work!)

World-of-Work Skills Building

Yes. It was another great peer collaborative learning experience. I agree with Lowry, Roberts, Romano, and Cheney (2008) that group project work should be considered as a vital component of today’s education because “people skills” are required in today’s global workplace. Lowry, Roberts, Romano, & Cheney’s position that, when quality communication is shared collectively among properly grouped individuals, their multiple perspectives and contributions usually results in a much richer learning experience (p. 635).

But, our professor is teaching us that peer collaboration assignments and groupings require forethought and care. You have to know your students to the point where they are properly grouped. Because we were properly group last week, we did not suffer the degradation in communications that can kill group communications. Instead, we engaged with the feelings of social presence among peers required to ensure each voice was heard, varying opinions valued, and cordial and respectful agreements could be reached (p.637).  Had we not been properly grouped, those opportunities for increased knowledge, competencies, and learning one would expect from peer learning could have been missed and the experience possibly destructive (Lowry, Roberts, Romano, & Cheney, 2008).

But, our professor was not done with our learning yet.

Part 2: Evaluation of an Educational System

In Part 2, we were required to evaluate an educational system in which we currently play a role. That one was easy for me since I am currently working my way through college as a mentor within an online blended professional learning community for aspiring college professors. My role enables me to see the impacts of both synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning first-hand. My role also allows me to see the power of Instructors’ intuitive Canvas grouping tools.

The Canvas learning management system makes creating groups easy and effective.  A group discussion assignment can be created with two clicks of the mouse. Group discussion sets can then be created with another four clicks. With the stage set, you would next assign group members by simply selecting a student’s name, then clicking the “+Add” link. That is it. Done! Canvas makes it that easy. 

Canvas also facilitates grading group discussions. Canvas enables filtering by individual student or group. This allows you to see when and how often a student contributed, shared resources, posted thoughtful insight posts, and made relevant peer replies.  Yes. I like the Canvas’s small group discussion features a lot.

Jennie’s Perspective

As mentioned earlier, I experienced yet another constructive small group learning activity last week that promoted higher order thinking skills. I feel the exercise affirmatively answered the question: How do you make the most of virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning activities?

When done properly, synchronous and asynchronous computer-supported group activities and group collaborative learning activities are the bomb.  We experienced both Piaget’s (1977) cognitive knowledge construction benefits while sharing and consolidating varying perspectives to form cohesive position (Piaget, 1977) while also paying due respect to my hero. Vygotsky’s (1978). No surprise that Vygotsky’s socio-cultural collaborative knowledge-building theories proved right on point (Vygotsky, 1978).

I like school. It suits me. I am learning so much. (Shout out to “Professor-You-Know-Who-You-Are”.



Habermas, J. (1984). The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. London: Heinemann.

Lowry, P. B., Roberts, T. L., Romano Jr, N. C., Cheney, P. D., & Hightower, R. T. (2006). The impact of group size and social presence on small-group communication: Does computer-mediated communication make a difference?. Small Group Research37(6), 631-661.

Mäkitalo, S. K. kati. makitalo-siegl@psy. lmu. d. (2008). From Multiple Perspectives to Shared Understanding: A small group in an online learning environment. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(1), 77–95.

Miller, K. (2005). Communication theories. USA: Macgraw-Hill

Piaget, J. (1977). The development of thought: Equilibration of cognitive structures (A. Rosin, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Spitz, H., & Sadock, B. Psychiatric training of graduate nursing students. N. Y State Journal of Medicine, June 1, 1973 , pp. 1334-1338.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies2(4), 419-427.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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