Academic journal article Adult Learning

Academic Learning Teams in Accelerated Adult Programs: Online and On-Campus Students' Perceptions

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Academic Learning Teams in Accelerated Adult Programs: Online and On-Campus Students' Perceptions

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article reports adult students' (N = 632) perceptions of long-functioning academic learning teams in accelerated online and on-campus business cohort groups in six constructs: attraction to team, performance expectation alignment, workload distribution, intra-team conflict, preference for teamwork, and impact on learning. Comparisons between students in online and on-campus programs revealed, regardless of degree or delivery model, a majority of adult students preferred individual work and did not believe teams positively affected their learning. These perspectives were more distinct among students in online programs.

Keywords: adult learners, teamwork, online learning, group work


The positive outcomes and challenges of cooperative learning are well documented in the face-to-face and online literatures (see Gottschall & Garcia-Bayonas, 2008; Pfaff & Huddleston, 2003; Roberts & McInnerney, 2007; Sweeney, Weaven, & Herington, 2008; Thompson, 2006). However, the majority of these studies examined traditional-aged students in semester-long courses. Far less is known about how adult students in accelerated programs perceive cooperative learning, particularly academic team learning activities and projects.

A larger study investigated adult students' overall perceptions of long-functioning academic teams in accelerated business degree programs (Favor, 2012). As part of the larger study, this article reports results from follow-up analyses examining differences between online and on-campus student perceptions. Specifically, this study evaluated the degree to which adult students enrolled in bachelor's and master's programs (a) liked their teams, (b) believed academic performance expectations were aligned, (c) believed the workload was shared, (d) perceived conflict, (e) preferred to work in teams, and (f) believed teams increased their learning.

For context, all business degree programs are designed for working adult students and utilize a lock-step, cohort curriculum and accelerated courses ranging from 5 to 8 weeks in length. On-campus students attend classes in the evenings. Online students complete all coursework online with no face-to-face meetings with instructors or fellow students.

The business programs utilize academic learning teams comprised of three to six students. Teams self-select during the first cohort course and are expected to remain together for the program's duration. Each course includes at least one graded team project, generally a written article and/or oral presentation, and teams are expected to work together during and outside scheduled class time to complete team assignments. Most accelerated courses include more than 1 team project, and a maximum of 40% of a student's grade is based on team projects. As a self-governing unit, teams develop a written document outlining policies, expectations, and procedures.

The following sections discuss the conceptual framework for this study, including a brief literature review, before detailing methodology, results, and implications for adult education practitioners.

Framework and Review of Literature

Steiner's (1972) input-process-output (IPO) model of team effectiveness simplifies the complex team interaction process and provided a conceptual framework for this study. According to Steiner's model, team effectiveness equals potential productivity minus any process losses. Potential productivity includes inputs individual team members bring such as skills, motivation, attitudes, and personalities. When combined into teams, individual team member characteristics may complement each other and result in effective processes and improved team performance (output), or they may cause process losses due to miscommunication, interpersonal conflict, or differences in ability or work ethic. Process losses may ultimately affect a team's effectiveness via the actual product. …

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