Feb. 28, 2001 University Park, PA --- Learning to solve a problem as part of a twosome and learning on your own produce different benefits, a Penn State researcher has found and he says these differences can be exploited to enhance cooperative learning strategies, decision support systems for corporate managers or on line courses.
Dr. Michael D. McNeese, associate professor of information sciences and technology, says, "The way you acquire information affects how you use it. We've shown that learning to solve a problem in a group definitely has certain advantages. However, when you look in depth, there are situations where the individual who worked alone on the problem does better than people in groups. It depends on the problem."
"Our study suggests that if you are setting up computer support for on-line learning, you have to set up different things for individuals versus groups, " he adds.
"Groups need to have an effective interface. If you're doing a distance learning course, the students should be able to use video-based perception since videos of real world problems work best to create a context for understanding," he added.
McNeese's findings are detailed in a paper, "Socio-Cognitive Factors in the Acquisition and Transfer of Knowledge," in the current issue of the journal Cognition, Technology and Work. McNeese, who joined the Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology last fall, conducted the study while he was at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. In his study, the Penn State researcher asked 14 groups composed of two people as well as 28 individuals to watch a video about an eagle search and rescue mission and to solve the problem the video dramatized. The participants had to figure out how to get an eagle in a remote location back to a veterinarian in order to save its life. To solve the problem, the participants had to select a mode of transportation and a route, figure out how long it would take to get to the eagle and then bring it back, how much fuel they would need, as well as other calculations.
"The problem is basically a math story problem in which you have to think about the clues presented in the video, make calculations and then decide on an course of action," he notes.
The groups of two people solved the hardest part of the problem more often and more quickly than individuals working alone. McNeese says the data show the group problem solving had an advantage because the two people shared their knowledge, brought different experience and expertise to the problem and kept each other from drifting off the point.
However, later, when the experiment participants were shown another video with a similar problem and asked to solve it, individuals did better overall than the groups.
"In groups you don't have to rely on your memory as much because you have the other group members to prompt you. Individuals, on the other hand, have to rely on their own memory while exploring the videos for scenes and this provides an edge in solving the problems," says the Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology researcher.
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