When would team learning be the most appropriate? This question is asked often by educators everywhere. “A team-based work structure makes sense when no one person can accomplish the task and information, distinctive knowledge or expertise, and effort need to be coordinated” (Bell & Kozlowski, 2008). The need to have teams is prevalent in today’s world of work. If educators are charged to prepare students for the workplace, then integrating team learning into the educational organization should not just be a starting point, but instead a way of life. As Bell and Kozlowski suggest, teams are needed when no one person can juggle the needs of a job or organization. Classrooms must mirror those jobs and needs.
All levels of education have the capability to implement team learning. Students starting in pre-k can be placed into learning environments in which team learning is honored. Students in the middle grades and in high school have been observed thriving in team learning environments. This trend in educational organizations does not only pertain to secondary schools. In fact, post-secondary organizations have experienced that “small group learning is considered a best practice in undergraduate education” (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Specifically, teachers in all of these levels of education, use this style of instruction for a simple and “must-have” skill for any educator: classroom management. “Probably the most widely used comprehensive group-based classroom management approach is team learning” (Michaelsen, 1992).
The benefits of team learning are not limited to assisting teachers with classroom management. However, if educators needed to be swayed and persuaded to adopt, implement, and sustain classroom cultures which hold team learning in high esteem, then perhaps they also should pay attention to researchers who suggest that “teaching with Team Learning is simply more fun” (Michaelsen, 1992). If the idea of fun does not do the trick, then perhaps the idea of the urgent need to find a solution to the crisis that today’s educational organizations have found themselves in will sway educators that the trend to adopt team learning is an idea that must be taken seriously. In order to further this point that today’s educational organizations must implement team learning, a Boston University professor of business, details the chasm between what our workplaces need and the sad state of what our schools are producing:
“Educational systems, as opposed to work organizations, traditionally reward individual performance by grading students on products—exams, papers, projects—that they generate by themselves, and reward faculty for courses taught solo and for the well-known "single-authored publications in refereed journals." Especially from the students' perspective, collaboration is frequently a form of cheating; in organizations, however, most people cannot perform their tasks without collaborating with others—designing products together, preparing joint reports, developing marketing, and trouble-shooting strategies together.
Collaboration skills are also deemphasized by faculty members who might otherwise wish to teach them but do not feel equipped to do so. These educators lack the mechanisms to enable group members to reflect on their work together. Such mechanisms comprise a core component of team learning, defined by three components: using student groups in the classroom to produce information, ideas, and products; having group members reflect on their work together, give and receive feedback about performance processes and collaboration skills; and evaluating group members' skills of collaboration, that is, their effectiveness as group members in addition to the quality of their end products.”
Given the immense amount of work dedicated to the endorsement of team learning as well as the sense of belonging serving as a basic human need, why do you think we do not see more of it in our schools today?