Learning in communities and the power of group roles

Today’s pedagogy brings front collaborative learning as a method of flipped classroom strategies. The flipped classroom model inverts the idea of traditional teacher vs. student roles. Here the student takes a more active role by discussing, finding material, analyzing information and engaging in problem-solving through various methods.

Many studies have highlighted advantages and effectiveness of flipped classroom methods. One of these studies was conducted by J. Nouri [1]. The result of Nouri’s study indicated that the reasons for students’ perceptions of increased and more effective learning are associated with 1) the affordances of video lectures (the ability to reflect and learn in own pace); 2) more meaningful practice-oriented and teacher supervised classroom activities; and 3) more supported learning processes due to teacher and peer scaffolding in class and out of class through the use of Moodle.

I have found interesting and challenging how flipped learning methods are presented through group work and peer review. Especially how groups are formulated, how individuals work together in a group and what are the psychological forces circulating over the interaction of people who quite often do not know each other beforehand.

You might be familiar with a situation where you meet an old friend from your childhood whom you haven’t seen in 20 years. Your friend was perhaps a sort of “leader” of your group and decided what to play and even set the rules of the game. You on the other hand were a conformist who had many ideas but eventually your friend decided which idea was the applicable one. Now when you meet each other after a very long time you discuss briefly how both of you are doing and decide to have a drink somewhere to chat and reminiscence the old days. You mention a few restaurants you like but your friend says that he/she has wanted to try out a new place and suggests to go there? You of course answer yes. This situation might happen to anyone anywhere but more often than not you slid back to your old roles, and perhaps they are the same ones you find yourself most comfortable in even after 20 years.

The roles we are subconsciously prone to take in a group usually reflect our personalities, but the roles are not always fixed and could be flipped around intentionally. Since the 50’s many studies have examined team roles and how roles contribute to team effectiveness. The usual roles in a work environment [2] are facilitator (usually the leader), initiator, arbitrator, note-taker, coach, coordinator, evaluator or a compromiser. The team is very likely most effective when there are several roles which all contribute to the common goal.

A while ago I came up with a game where students examine (trough several small tasks) their typical role in a group and afterwards form a situation where they intentionally mix them up. This contributed to the awareness of how roles affect group communication. After the game the vast majority of students reported to feel more at ease and felt a sense of common understanding while doing the actual group work, and leaned to be more positive in peer review.

T. Driskell, J. Driskell, C. Shawn Burke and E. Salas [3] presented a three-dimensional model (termed TRIAD [Tracking Roles in and Across Domains]) that comprises the dimensions of Dominance (high dominance vs. low dominance), Sociability (high sociability vs. low sociability), and Task Orientation (high task orientation vs. low task orientation). The assumption is that any role can be mapped onto this three-dimensional space. For example, we may expect that the Team Leader role would occupy a high Dominance, moderate Sociability, high Task Orientation space.

Figure 1. The TRIAD model

Where would you place yourself or your role in a group in this map?

In Open networked learning course 2021 we made a collective recipe book combining our many cultural traditions, foods and ideas for collaborative learning in a form of a recipe. Take a look at the recipe book [4] with many interesting recipes for collaborative learning. You will also find details of my role mixup game.


[1] Nouri, J. The flipped classroom: for active, effective and increased learning – especially for low achievers. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 13, 33 (2016).


[2] Indeed Editorial Team, 10 Group Roles for Workplace Teams. 2021.


[3] T. Driskell, J. E. Driskell, C. Shawn Burke, E. Salas. Team Roles: A Review and Integration. (2017)


[4] I. Tarling, S. Pérez Läherinta, S. Lau, H. Karlsson Pacheco, M. Gan Joo Seng, K. Minkkinen, J-P. Murara. Open networked learning, Course 2021, recipe book. (2021)