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Challenging the Traditional Theorisation on Group Development: An International Online Perspective

Lucilla Crosta, University of Lancaster

Prof. David McConnell, Glasgow Caledonian University


The intention of this paper is that of describing and analysing through a comparative case study, how online learning groups may evolve into online learning communities. The contexts chosen were two respectively blended and online Master courses in education delivered in Italy and United Kingdom (UK). The Research involved the use of Grounded Theory analysis of the text messages exchanged in the designated course forums. The paper will present some theorization about online learning group development and design, it will then illustrate the characteristics of this study and then its final findings and comparisons challenging the more diffused theories on traditional and online group development. The theory building process at the basis of this work involved the construction of new categories representing the uniqueness of each group and the presence of "stage of developments”. The main findings are three different Group Developmental Models: a product-oriented model, a product-process oriented model and a process-oriented one. This work stresses the uniqueness of each virtual group and the influence played by the course design of the country in which each course sits, they are central for the future development of these groups
The study proposes new theorization about group development with new implications for teaching and learning online:

  1. despite each virtual group being unique, its development can be described through key stages and key characteristics crucial to identify the group achievements.
  2. virtual groups develop with different stages than face-to-face ones;
  3. virtual groups develop according to the characteristics of the context in which they are embedded and to the course design applied in practice;
  4. e-learning practice should not underestimate the influence of elements such as: the tutorship, the social relationship, the assessment, the course design, while designing for virtual learning groups; technology plays just a partial influence;
  5. the complexity of the development of virtual learning groups suggests the use of an holistic, qualitative and grounded research approach which preserves differences and makes each group development unique too.

Full Paper - .pdf




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