Small Group Learning – Part I

The concept of small-group instruction, or small-group learning, is pretty straightforward.  It’s the process of separating larger learning groups into smaller groups.  This separation can be driven by learning levels, departments, roles, etc.   The goal is to individualize and target instruction for particular subsets and get people working and learning in groups small enough that each participant feels involved and valued.  We’ll look at the small-group learning journey from childhood to adulthood and define what it looks like in the corporate training, specifically virtual training, environment.

We are all familiar with small-group learning from our school days. In grade school, teachers often separate students into smaller groups for individualized lessons based on reading and math levels, and to do group project work.

Assigning small groups to work together and providing them with targeted instruction is another popular learning tool educators use. These projects become increasingly prevalent during middle school, high school, and college.  Small group project work is purported to help students develop important skills for adult life and the workplace such as:

  • Communication
  • Openness
  • Trust and self-disclosure
  • Respect
  • Accountability
  • Problem solving
  • Time management
  • Organization

Research has found that, “Small-group instruction offers an environment for teachers to provide students extensive opportunities to express what they know and receive feedback from other students and the teacher. Instructional conversations are easier to conduct and support with a small group of students.”

Corporate Learning

In the corporate world, small group instruction serves the same purpose as it does in academic environments, with many of the same benefits and objectives; to facilitate learning and promote desired outcomes. The aim is to teach and sharpen skills, encourage critical thinking, and set learners/employees up for success.

The proficiencies listed above that are taught through small-group work are put into practice and further honed by continuing the practice in corporate training. These smaller groups are often called “breakout sessions” in a business learning environment, and numerous successful organizations are using them to great effect as a means of increasing participation, sharing different viewpoints, clarifying and generating ideas, and increasing retention (   

Virtual Corporate Breakout Sessions

In a traditional, in-person training environment, breakout sessions are conducted by sending small groups to different rooms for their specific discussions/training.  In the virtual training world, the same concept of break out rooms is there but instead of moving people physically, the movement to a virtual break out room is done by simply setting up the small group rooms and then assigning the various team members to each room.  Same concept…easier and less disruptive process.

We’ll discuss the virtual break out rooms more in-depth in another article where we’ll explore best practices for implementing small-group instruction in a virtual training environment.

For effective small group learning, the virtual technology should have all the tools available in the break out room that is in the main room.  Most virtual solutions do not have a fully-functioning break out room system and most are very cumbersome and clunky.   Jigsaw Interactive not only has fully functioning break out rooms but they include the ability to customize each room with different content with a click of a button.  Understanding that a video or web-conferencing system is not designed for the needs of learning and engagement is important.  Jigsaw Interactive was built specifically for training and learning so it has unique features for engagement, customization, collaboration and personalized learning.     

In the next article in this series, we’ll dive into the benefits and drawbacks of corporate small-group instruction.