In Africa, there's a saying: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a group.
A group? Why would you want to go with a group? Have you ever tried to see a movie with a group? Everyone wants to go their own way, and you end up in complete chaos most of the time.
And you're right.
Groups may not exactly be prime material when going to the movies, but they sure rock when it comes to learning. And yet when we train our clients, we do one-on-one consulting. We think it's somehow superior. We think the whole private-sessions are what they need. And yet the one-on-one sessions are nowhere as effective when compared with group learning.
So why do groups matter when you have to learn?
There are three core reasons why groups are more effective.
Reason A: Don't work in isolation.
Reason B: Your assignments are public.
Reason C: You get to copy.
Let's start with Reason A: Don't Work in Isolation
Learning exhausts the brain. Try to do something you know and it's pretty much samba time. Try to do something new and you're cursing and ranting, because your brain doesn't know what the heck it needs to be doing. So learning becomes a horribly frustrating battle.
What would make this battle so much easier would be simple motivation. Once a group has a goal, it's almost natural for group members to motivate each other constantly. And because it's a group effort, they're also quick to give feedback.
Working in isolation works less effectively because it takes enormous motivation. And to be motivated all the time is exhausting. But that's not the only problem, of course…
The second problem is that your assignments are private.
So why do public assignments work better?
In school your assignments were private. You did the assignment. And no one got to see how you did. You got marked. And no one but your mum, dad and your sneaky sibling got to see your marks.
And this system works less effectively because everyone's methodology is now a secret. The entire group attacked the same problem and you can be sure that almost the entire group approached the same problem in different ways.
And nope, you didn't get to see the myriad ways in which you could solve the same problem.
This means you're stuck doing it your way.
Which of course could be great for one problem, where you're ahead. But then is terrible for another problem, where you seem as slow as a three-toed sloth.
Working in public means you can compare methodologies and pick ideas that speed up your learning considerably. And best of all, when working in groups, you get to copy.
Copying is a mortal sin in school.
If you copy you are banished to the gates of hellfire. And yet, copying is critical for us as a society. We learn more by copying than by any other method. When you work on a one-on-one basis with a client, there's nothing and no one to copy. But the moment you work in a group, copying is easily the best way to move rapidly ahead.
And hey, we're not talking about sharing your big company secrets here. We're talking about learning. And while you may be coy to share your patented (or un-patented) secrets, this article is about learning.
When you see someone's else's work and you copy, you don't get worse. You get better. And that's because you're smart. You want to move ahead. So you tend to copy the method that's smarter and more efficient.
But of course the question is: Does this group learning work in real life?
Yes it does. At Psychotactics, we do almost no one-on-one learning with our clients at all. Every course from cartooning to copywriting and article writing is purely a group exercise.
And you can tell if it works by the enthusiasm of the group. Having experienced group-learning, it's almost impossible to get a client to work alone. They yearn for the group, and if you get back to one-on-one, the dropout rate rockets.
However there's another point where dropout rates increase
And that's when you don't consider the size of the group. For effective group learning, you can't have more than 20-30 people in a group (depending on what you do).
And even with this group size, the groups must be further sub-divided into groups of 4-5 people. If you keep the group size more than 4-5, the workload gets too crazy and learning takes a massive beating. Plus there's also the factor of “introverts”. Introverts are happiest in smaller groups—and extroverts don't really care. They'll hop from group to group happily 🙂
So groups work. And they really work because they:
1) Make sure the motivation and feedback stays high.
2) Sharing of methodologies help speed up learning.
3) Blatant copying actually creates an acceleration like never before.
So if you're a consultant, think about tinkering with your one-on-one system of consulting. And work instead with group learning. Once you do, you'll realise that just like the African saying, you'll indeed go far.
Probably even farther.:)
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Corinne Floyd says
Going “it” alone can be so difficult. Having a group to learn with increases accountability and motivation. I know in business this works; and believe it or not the schools are actually heading towards more group learning.
Sean D'Souza says
Fisayo @ Secrets Of Entrepreneurship says
Great post on group learning. I’ve gained. Thanks for sharing
Leon Noone says
A most interesting post. Small group learning can be quite useful. But there are lots of “provided thats”.
And certainly, unless adults actually do something, they’re unlikely to learn much, especially in large groups such as in lectures.
But it’s all likely to fall into a cocked hat if the learning objectives don’t commence with those magic words “at the end of this instruction. you will be able to….” followed by a measurable description of the specific learning outcomes.