Teams Working in Adult Education
Group dynamics play an important part in the learning process. A teaching group is a special kind of group insofar as there is an assumed leader, namely the professor. Consequently, the normal social and psychological processes of a group are subordinate to the particular learning tasks of individual members. Another dynamic affecting interaction is the size of the group. Most learning groups in adult or community education are between twelve and twenty. This is referred to as a large group. Small groups usually comprise a subdivision of the large group into three or six people. Whatever the size of the group, the professor’s initial goal is to create a climate where interaction can flourish, where people can participate in safety and learn both with and from others.
Several factors should be understood or observed in managing small group. One advantage to group activities is that being part of the group satisfies people’s needs for a sense of security and belonging, for giving and receiving attention, for being favorably regarded, and for being stimulated by and learning from others. Groups are able to provide a supportive atmosphere for individual practice, experimentation and innovation. They also help people reconsider and modify their beliefs, as well as produce more varied and stimulating ideas than can allow individuals working alone.
In facilitating the group, the professor should encourage several processes. First, as individuals come to trust each other, they should be more willing to participate in a wider range of learning activities. Secondly, once this trust has been accomplished, the professor should develop individual group members.
The size of the group will depend on what the professor wants his students to do. Other factor affecting size of the group may include how much time is available, how big the group is, and whether there are odd or even numbers. It must be remembered that as the group increases in size, so the time required doing the task also increases.
The professor should be aware that telling adult students just once what to do and how to do it will rarely be sufficient. Writing these instructions on a chalkboard or handout may prevent misunderstandings and help focus the group. The professor should be on hand to advise and facilitate. To monitor activity, the professor may walk around quietly amongst the small groups. He/ She may also sit in with each group for a while, although this will alter the dynamics of the group and students may then defer to the professor. Value must be given to the work that each subgroup has done, even though the real benefit may be the group work itself rather than the feedback to the whole group. Having group reports back may become tedious if every member feels compelled to share everything. When possible, the professor should choose the group that he feels will be most brief, and then the group will serve as a model for other groups in reporting.
A number of potential difficulties are associated with learning groups. Among these include coping with the dominant and/or quiet group member; the potential embarrassed of personal self- disclosure; the subsequent reluctance of members to work on their own; over-concern for the emotional or social life of the group by some group members; the development of cliques; the emergence of unacceptable group norms; the integration of new students; and coping with those who do not want to join in. Should these difficulties present themselves, ideally they should be resolved jointly. However, students usually expect the professor to resolve a crisis when something becomes problematic.
In summary, the factors listed above are guides to mindful on in teaching adult students of higher educational institutions. With that said, what are some additional factors educators should be aware of as we continue to facilitate group and long learning activities in group settings?