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Small Group Communication Tips for Online and Distance Learners

written by: Melina Ann Collison•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/30/2010

Learning to work in an online classroom or distance learning setting can be difficult with all the different group settings. Learn how to problem solve, deal with conflicts, and what groups you will find in an online classroom.

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    Types of Small Groups in an Online Classroom

    There are different types of groups for every environment and situation. Online classes are not that much different than campus classes when it comes to groups. Social, or relationship, groups are friends, family, people at school, and anyone else you see each and every day. Task groups are formed to get a task completed. Most times, teachers will put classmates in a task group to complete an assignment or paper. Membership groups are people you are around; but, you do not measure yourself or your actions by the group’s standards.

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    Information-Sharing Groups

    When a task group is formed in the online classroom, students begin sharing information to complete assignments for the class. This group setting is starting to look similar to the information-sharing groups now that tips, facts, insight, and other things are shared from one person to the next. The purpose of an information-sharing group is to share knowledge and gain new skills or information. Most times, each person in the classroom groups have something to teach and to learn from fellow students and teachers.

    Photo By Pedro Cora 

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    Brainstorming Groups

    There are also multiple brain storming groups in the distance learning and online classroom. Teachers will often choose a topic and ask for people to brainstorm about it and then post their ideas and thoughts. Brainstorming can happen in information-sharing groups and any other online classroom group.

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    Chat Groups

    Each online classroom area normally utilizes the typical chat room format that is seen all over the Internet. Some colleges use newsgroups or specialized schooling programs for the online classroom. However, even though these are similar to online chat groups, there is no resemblance besides that. Chat groups are a social setting for people to interact with others on a more personal level. School is for learning, teaching, and gaining knowledge in a business-like way.

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    Ways to Problem Solve and Develop Solutions

    Photo By You Like Ashley When in an online classroom, the act of not actually seeing the other people can be difficult for some. The Internet allows people to say whatever is on their minds without fear of the other person or people. Here is a problem solving pattern to follow while in a group setting that is having problems or issues with work or members. Feel free to change the problem solving pattern to meet your specific needs.

    Please continue reading on page two for more information onf the problem solving pattern.

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    Small group communication student projects can become out of hand with complaining group members. Learn how to have more effective group communication, the group communication process, what is group communication, and better your student teacher communication.
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    Problem Solving Pattern

    1. Analyze and Define the Issue
    2. Set Up Criteria for Evaluating Problem Solutions Photo By John A Ward 
    3. Identify the Possible Solutions
    4. Evaluate the Possible Solutions
    5. Pick the Best Solution
    6. Test the Selected Solution

    If after following all six steps in the problem solving pattern, your group still encounters problems, you have two options. You can either:

    • Try Again or
    • Quit the Group

    If you are going to try againm repeat the six steps until a solution is found.

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    Group Member Roles and Participation

    Each different group has multiple roles in it: roles that we perform as a student and roles that we expect other people to perform. Participation is important, and proper communication can either make or break a group. Here are some roles students and teachers play in a group setting.

    • Encourager and Peace Keeper – Giver of praise and positive reinforcement
    • Compromiser – Stops conflict and resolves fights or arguments
    • Follower – Passive group member that does not offer anything to the group besides what is required of them
    • Opinion and Information Giver and Seeker – Determines facts and opinions and then presents them to others in the group
    • Critic and Evaluator – Sits back and evaluates the facts presented or ideas suggested and then points out the negative found in the ideas or facts
    • Record Keeper – Passes out the necessary materials needed to get work completed in the group

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    Handling Small Group Conflict and Complaints

    The main aspect of handling small group conflict and complaints is to listen. Listening to others is an essential part of providing feedback and a response. Closing off people in the online or distance learning classroom is only going to hurt you. By listening, it helps you to deal with complaints more positively and understand the other person’s point of view.

    • Accept and welcome a complaint by letting the other person know that you view it as a positive, helpful source of information and that you want to know what they have to say.
    • Convey concern for the other person’s thought and then their feelings. (Example: I am sorry our group assignment did not turn out well, and I understand your anger and frustration.)
    • Do not go telling other people in the classroom all about your conversations. Treat complaints and conflict as a confidential matter.
    • Ask questions and find out what the complainer would like to see happen as a possible solution to their problem.
    • Thank the person for coming to you with the complaint and then tell them you will follow up or continue to work on the issues with them.

    Photo By Runs With Scissors 






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