A Study on Group Theory and Learning

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It is evident that the definition of a group has not been agreed on by most scholars. As most people heavily stress on the common goals or the interdependency of its members, offering a subjective definition. In all this varying analysis, it is agreed that groups are made up of two or more individuals.

The definition of group offered by Brown(2000,p.3) "a group exits when two or more people define themselves as members of it and its existence is recognized by at least one other".

Groups have existed and evolved with man and are seldom without issues. Groups all around the world are confronted with similar issues, irrespective of its geographical location. Most of these issues may arise in the forming and storming stages of group formation (Bruce Wayne Tuckman, stages of group development), though some of these issues may also crop up in the latter stages of the group.

There are many different theories of how people learn. Burns (1995, p99) conceives of learning as a relatively permanent change in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions. It is evident that motivation has been included in Burns' definition of learning. Burns considers that learning might not manifest itself in observable behaviour until sometime after the educational program has taken place.

According to Kolb (1995), people learn in four ways with the likelihood of developing one mode of learning more than another. He said one can learn through:

concrete experience

observation and reflection

abstract conceptualisation

active experimentation

The idea that people learn in different ways has been explored by many researchers. Honey and Mumford (1986 cited in McGill & Beaty 1995 p.177) building on Kolb's work, identified four learning styles:

Activist (enjoys the experience itself),

Reflector (spends a great deal of time and effort reflecting)

Theorist (good at making connections and abstracting ideas from experience)

Pragmatist (enjoys the planning stage)

Motivation " Has to do with a set of independent variables relationship that explain the direction, aptitude and persistence of an individual's behaviour , holding constant the effects of aptitude ,skill and understanding of the task ,and constraints operating in the environment. (Campbell and Pritchard 1976).

It is believed that the need and motive of a person is what pushes him /her to behave in a certain way. Therefore an individual's goals and aspirations in life can serve as a determinant in the way the person behaves. However this goals and aspirations differ from one person to the other.

According to Buchanan and Huczynski (2004) motivation can be explored in three distinct perspectives namely goals, decisions and influence.

Goals serve as the main motive of our behaviour. Therefore the goals and aspirations or what a person wants to achieve will cause an individual to behave in a certain manner to achieve that particular goal. E.g. If a person wants to become a medical doctor in future that persons behaviour and ideologies will all be geared towards the achievement of this particular goal.

Decisions the second on the perspective list talks about why we choose to pursue certain goals. For instance if we should take the MBA class as an example and ask what motivates each student to study, it will interest you to know that we will get many answers. For some students it is the expected reward that they will get after their course like promotion, pay rise etc. for other students it could be the status recognition of getting alphabets at the end of their names, whiles others derive satisfaction from learning or curiosity. This is what is being described as the "Cognitive decision - making" processes influencing an individual's choice of goals.

The third on the perspective list is that of influence which talks about what and how to motivate an individual to work harder here emphasis is laid on social influence.


Working for Vodafone, a telecommunication company, I had the opportunity to work with the operations manager, a man who had attained his Masters in Business Administration. Under his supervision, he demonstrated a high level of performance which was evidently seen in his structured approach to decision making. He approached new challenges that confronted him in a strategic manner and executed tasks effectively by attaining goals from company procedures and processes. I have since then been motivated by the worth of managerial knowledge and skills that where displayed by the operations manager, inspiring me to offer a postgraduate degree in Business Administration.

In explaining my motivation in the light of Vroom's expectancy theory, with the underlying theme which states that motivation depends on "how much we want something and how likely we think we are to get it" Griffin and Moorhe (2007, p .98) and which revolves around the three key variables of valence (the value of the expected reward), expectancy (the believe that effort will lead to performance) and instrumentality (the believe that the performance will lead to a desired outcome).

In observing the operations manager my first reaction was to gain such managerial skills and I knew I had a reasonable chance of achieving it. In applying the three variables (valence, instrumentality and expectancy) I believed that my efforts to enrol in a master's degree will yield to the attainment of masters in business administration and perceiving that there was a high probability that the masters in business administration will result in acquiring the managerial skills.

In spite of the usefulness in using Vroom's expectancy theory to explain motivation, according to Griffin and Moore (2007) it has been heavily criticized about its complexity and how difficult it is to test. Moreover researchers find the relationship among its variables less scientific, making it difficult to investigate. Another short coming of this theory is that it not applicable in places where people think God causes the outcome of every individual behaviour. Example Muslim countries.

However, I think the theory has been very useful in explaining the concept of motivation and also giving managers very important guidelines in understanding the employee and how he can be motivated.

As it is rightly said by Nicol Morgan (Granfell Investment Management) "motivation is not about money, it was about creating an environment in which people enjoyed working".The motivation to offer my masters in Bangor University out of a host of Universities both in The United kingdom and The United States of America, Bangor offered an excellent reputation as a centre for business studies, by chalking success in the 2008 UK government's Research Assessment Exercise, by placing first.

It also proved to be a world class research centre and a staff with strong international experience all packaged in an enabling environment for learning.

In respect to Herzberg's motivator-hygiene theory, Bangor University was able to satisfy my hygiene needs by offering basic facilities such as a school library, stocked with up- to- date academic resources, accommodation facilities for international students and also providing a safe learning environment.

The provision of such facilities did not motivate me, but rather prevented me from being dissatisfied, knowing that such facilities are available in most Universities. My motivation to study at Bangor came about when the university met my higher levels needs, by proving to be a world class research centre, been among the highly ranked business schools in the UK and providing a very international teaching staff, to help gain knowledge and experience all over the world from a wider perspective.

This is shown in the diagram below










(DZANIE 2010)

Like any other theory, Herzberg two factor theory has also suffered criticisms. According to Mullins (2005) the theory is said to apply least to individuals with unskilled jobs which are monotonous in scope. As they are those who largely present management with issues of motivation. Nevertheless I believe the theory has been useful in understanding motivation not only in the work place but also to our daily lives.


My learning approach to studies has mainly been the memorization of facts, without relating the knowledge acquired to any experience. From my secondary school through to my undergraduate study, I have always been a surface learner. Where the main focus was just to follow what the syllabus demanded. This learning style was quite effective because in my educational life emphasis was laid much more on closed ended examination than giving out regular assignments.

However, in a different learning environment and more especially in my Masters degree taking a deep learning approach will be beneficial. Though difficult, having been a surface learner, putting down my old model of learning to a deep learner will mean an active involvement in the course work, obtaining a practical understanding of theories and concepts and having a critical mind set in solving problems. All these attributes of a deep learner will develop and equip me with the necessary skills to relate my acquired knowledge in MBA to the ever increasing challenges in the corporate world.

Secondly, my choice of being a deep learner is further strengthened by the following factors;

a) The teacher student relationship:

The learning relationship between lectures and their students have a commanding influence on how students approach learning. For example in a learning institution where teachers do not lay much emphasis on assignments and rather stress more on closed ended assessments, students are likely to a adopt a surface approach to learning. A study conducted by Kember as cited in Tight et al, (2009) on how Asian students learn, showed that the students approach to learning was consistent with the evaluative requirements of students by their teachers. In my experience of learning at the undergraduate studies, lecturers require students to memorize lecture notes and to regurgitate the words of the lecturer in their final exams, compelling most students to engage in surface learning. This approach to learning in the local parlance is termed "chew, pour, pass and forget".

Deciding to choose a deep approach to learning was influenced by the teacher student relationship in Bangor University.Lectureres in the University require students to engage in a deep level of learning, relating theory to real life experiences, evaluating and analyzing theories and concepts to make meaning out of it, as against just the memorization and reproduction of lecture notes.

b) The work load of courses

Engaging in a deep learning approach is influenced by my knowledge of work involved in each course. In their analysis Entwistle & Ramsden (1983) as cited in Tight et al, (2009) established that students are likely to engage in surface, strategic or deep learning, depending on the degree of work load that is accompanied with the course. A surface learning approach is adopted when students perceive a high degree of work load in their courses, as there is no time to engage in deep learning. A relevant example will be the reduction of the business modules from twelve to eight. Students might have been forced to engage in surface or strategic learning because of the ever increasing workload from their courses, leaving them with little or no time to engage in deep learning. A restructure of the course this academic year have reduced the workload considerably, and this will give me the time and opportunity to engage in deep learning.

c) The learning institution

Furthermore my approach is increasingly shaped by the learning institution. I.e. Bangor University. As it is rightly said by cf Barnett (1990 cited in Tight et al, 2009, p.12) "The characteristics of deep approach to learning can be seen to reflect what are generally held to be aims of higher education". During the induction section held by the University of Bangor, students were briefed by senior lecturers about what is expected of them by the University. Students were advised and encouraged to engage in critical thinking, avoid making assumptions and analyze an argument, looking for weakness in the arguement.Also students where asked not to reproduce lecture notes or regurgitate what the lecture has said, a characteristic of surface learning, but rather drawing from other sources like relevant text books and academic journals and most importantly desisting from illegally copying some ones work as yours, an act of plagiarism.

The University has therefore put in place structures to encourage deep approach to learning by providing the necessary academic resources such as the library, access to internet and journals to enable students to engage in serious academic work by being deep learners and not surface learner.

In a nutshell, my decision to a deep learning approach can be illustrated in Ramsden (2003) Student learning in context diagram.

My orientation to learning

My previous educational experience as a surface learner.

The context of learning in the new environment

1. Opened ended assessment.

2. Interactive lecturers.

The learning outcome is: long term memory and holistic understanding of the course


My decision to adopt a Deep Approach to Learning

My perception of the work load, what is required of me as a student from the Lecturers and Bangor University

(DZANIE 2010)


One particular issue I anticipate in the group work is the difference in the learning styles among group members. Forming a group with a high degree of individual diversity, will surely amount to a different approach to learning and learning styles, which is usually influenced by culture background and the learning environment they came from.

Group members may be assimilating, accommodating, diverging or converging learners and may tend to contribute their effort more efficiently if learning is directed to their advantage. This was made evident when I engaged in an experiment carried out by Professor Sally Sambrook; in an effort to identify the learning styles of her students using Kolb's learning style. I noticed that my learning style was different in comparism to those of my friends as everyone's learning style differed from the other.

However, in addressing the issue of difference in learning styles. Group members should be assigned to tasks in relation to ones learning style/capabilities in order to get the best out of the individual. Merging a given task with a person learning style preference will yield a positive result and therefore increasing group efficiency. For example members who are diverges are better in creating new ideas and gathering of information. Assigning a task related to research will be best tailored to their learning style, thereby giving their maximum output to the group.

Secondly, group members are bound to engage in social loafing. Social loafing occurs when a group member pretends to contribute to the activities or effort of the group. And this is usually visible at the performing stage of group formation, where the task and the objectives of the group are well defined. An experiment conducted by Max Ringelmann (1913) as cited in Brown (2000) on social loafing, asked a group of agriculture students to pull a rope connected to a dynamometer to record the force exerted by the group. He thought that the bigger the size of the group the greater the force it exerted, he later discovered that the force didn't increase proportionately with the size of the group. In effect there were others in the group who put little effort or none at all when pulling the rope. This behaviour I anticipate in the group work, an attitude that is detrimental to the effectiveness of the group.

Nevertheless issues of social loafing are best addressed by increasing the identifiability of group members. It is unlikely to find members engaging in social loafing when they know they are been observed and evaluated individually, a case of the Hawthorne effect, when people tend to behave differently when they know they are been observed. This will increase participation of individual members as well as the productivity of the group. Drawing from my personal experiences with groups, I have noticed that relatively large groups are usually the breeding ground for social loafing .Keeping a sizable group in relation to the task at hand with a clear division of labour in the group can minimize social loafing.

Despite the numerous challenges faced in group work, workings in groups have proved to be effective not only in achieving group goals but also has the tendency to develop the individual. Working in groups can instil into the individual certain attributes such as a sense of responsibility through the division of labour, where group members are assigned task. For example after a long period of working in groups in my undergraduate study i realised that I have improved upon my communication skills an attribute that is necessary in the corporate world.

In addition, engaging in group work especially in a higher learning institution, can equip a person with a critical mindset in the interpretation and evaluation of academic materials, a sign of intellectual development.


To conclude, this essay has identified my motivation as triggered by both the worth of managerial skills displayed by the operations manager, which was clearly elaborated in Expectancy Theory and the Academic excellence of Bangor University using Herzberg's motivator and hygiene theory. It has also highlighted my approach as a deep learner coming into a new learning environment, which is strengthened by the teacher student relationship, workload and the learning institution .And finally the issues I anticipate in the group to be difference in learning style and social loafing.


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