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Come on in! This week in learning science, we’re addressing group projects and their relationship with underrepresented students, as well as scenario-based learning. The research for our first article does assess perspectives regarding a group project vs. an individual report and, spoiler alert , students did report a preference for the group project. You’ll have to continue reading to see how it affected their learning outcomes.

Our specific questions for this week are:

  1. Does integrating a collaborative project improve learning for underrepresented learners?
  2. Do learner perceptions of scenario-based learning change when it’s embedded in e-learning?

Group Projects & Underrepresented Students

While we’re still running the survey, I *might* have snuck a look at a few things. I noticed that a couple responses revealed an interest in research about underrepresented learners. An upcoming publication in the Journal of Education for Business presents findings regarding collaborative learning and underrepresented learner outcomes (Mitra, 2021). This article focuses on collaborative learning within an online context. Over the past few years, online education has continued to boom. A large perk of online learning is the flexibility, but it often comes at the cost of social interaction. However, does integrating a socially-driven project into an online course improve outcomes?

The course selected for this study was a “bottleneck” business course, one with high enrollment and a high failure rate. Courses such as this are often barriers to continuing education for underrepresented learners (Mitra, 2021). However, group and collaborative learning has previously been shown to be beneficial for academic success (Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Kayak, 2007). A sense of belonging and interaction with peers has been shown to positively impact academic success across different cultures and groups; one study that specifically examined the learning outcomes of Latino students found it improved academic outcomes (Strayhorn, 2008). Thus, the idea with implementing a group project is that it may promote a sense of community and improve success in the course. The business course was an asynchronous online class that required a group project and discussion forum participation. The class was run in this format for 2 semesters and compared to previous semesters (2) that included an individual report rather than a group-project component. Self-perception of critical thinking, learning, and helpfulness of the project were assessed (Mitra, 2021).

Over the semesters with the group project, results showed that learners in the courses with the collaborative project had higher scores and lower standard deviations than the individual report courses (Mitra, 2021). This tells us that scores were both higher and more consistent (re: standard deviation above) for those that participated in the group project. Of the 35% of underrepresented students, 74% “believed that the collaborative project helped them better master the course topics” (Mitra, 2021). Dropout and failure rates were also decreased in the collaborative project courses. While the fail rate was 56-67% in the individual project courses, this dropped to 14-25% in the collaborative project class. The dropout rate among underrepresented students also decreased, with no students dropping the class with the group project (Mitra, 2021). The results illustrate that the group project increased student outcomes. Importantly, student perceptions of the group project were overwhelmingly positive.

Key Takeaway: Including group projects may be a particularly powerful method for improving outcomes, promoting community, and keeping dropouts low, specifically in courses with diverse learners. For example, if there is a cohort of employees, partners, clients, or users being trained, a group project may improve outcomes and promote community.

Read More ($): Mitra, S. (2021). Does collaborative learning improve student outcomes for underrepresented students?: Evidence from an online bottleneck business course. Journal of Education for Business.

Can Scenario-Based Learning be Effectively Implemented Online?

As many learning contexts are becoming digital, especially during this particular pandemic time, it's important to assess whether tactics used within a traditional setting can be applied via e-learning. Our second article this week tackles just that - evaluating in-class scenario-based learning and scenario-based e-learning (Mehall, 2021). While scenario-based learning (SBL) sounds very fancy, it’s just fun jargon for “learning through real-world circumstances” (Mehall, 2021). SBL can also be applied to online learning, referenced as scenario-based e-learning (SBeL). While this study utilizes a business course, SBL and SBeL are used beyond business education - from virtual laboratories for sciences to classrooms for prospective teachers. However, since e-learning can lack peer and student-instructor interaction, “research comparing the differences in student perceptions of eLearning business case studies to in-class case studies is warranted“ (Mehall, 2021).

All students completed a reading of a case study, but the in-class group participated in an in-class group discussion while the e-learning group answered questions on their own. If you’re nosy like me you might be interested in the e-learning group’s Tesla case study, which can be found here. After the sessions, student perceptions of learning, flow, and overall enjoyment were evaluated (Mehall, 2021). For more information on flow, check out LSW Issue #48 and this TED talk.

Interestingly, the results were comparable between the two groups (see below).

(Mehall, 2021)

Essentially, there were no significant differences in any of the measures - perceived learning, flow, nor enjoyment. Individual items were also assessed, in which no significant differences were found (Mehall, 2021). Now, generally, we report on significant findings! However, one of the cool things about science is that nonsignificant findings can be very meaningful.

  • As a quick detour, publication bias is a factor that contributes to us predominantly covering papers with significant findings. Publication bias references the issue of journals publishing, almost exclusively, papers with significant results. For more information on publication bias, I’m going to shamelessly plug a book that I am proud to have on my shelf and think anyone in the field should read, The 7 Deadly Sins of Psychology by Chris Chambers.

The nonsignificant findings in this scenario are helpful because they tell us that learners had similar perceived learning, entered flow, and enjoyed the scenarios at similar rates - whether it was in the traditional setting or online (Mehall, 2021). I think this is great news as we continue to move toward more e-learning contexts!

Although there was no difference between the groups, correlations illustrated positive relationships between perceived learning and enjoyment, as well as flow and enjoyment (Mehall, 2021). While causation cannot be inferred in this study, we can guess at what the relationship may mean. Mehall (2021) suggests that the results either mean that 1. when an experience is immersive, students will find it more enjoyable or 2. if a student finds an activity enjoyable, it allows them to enter flow. So, what does this mean? While the e-learning SBL was not better than the classroom experience, it was comparable. The lack of significance tells us that the online learning students view their engagement, enjoyment, and learning similarly.

Key Takeaway: Scenario-based learning is beneficial, both online and in-person. Thus, implementing SBL into e-learning settings, particularly when preparing learners for real-world settings, is an effective way to engage learners. For more information on theory and practices regarding SBL, check out this quick overview and Stanford’s Design Education Lab website.

Read More ($): Mehall, S. (2021). Comparing in-class scenario-based learning to scenario- based eLearning through an interactive, self-paced case study. Journal of Education for Business.

We’re excited to continue connecting with you and would love to cater to our audience a bit more. Please help us out by completing this survey - it’ll be good for science!

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Thanks to reader Paula, we have a very handsome, hiking sir this week. She tells us that Avi is “the most stubborn learner” and “only learns what, when and how he wants, just like most of us!” Which, in my humble opinion, seems fair given his status in the chain of Adorable Royalty.

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D. and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D.

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