Engineering the Learning Set: A Socialised-learning Capacity

From the start I have been adamant that my doctoral research was of a nature that could have a true practical application rather than merely concerning itself with theory and principle. My research has resulted in an emergent understanding of the ‘Reality’ of learning as, with and because of a group, which has led to a redefined approach towards the initial construction of the group which seeks to enhance the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom.

I have written about the theory, principles, practice and outcomes of constructing or ‘engineering’ such a group in a number of previous articles and will seek to avoid unnecessary repetition:

As such the focus of this article is upon the application of an eighth applied criteria when initially constructing the group; a socialised-learning capacity.


One of the most fundamental aspects of Collaborative Group Learning is the construction of the initial group; the Learning Set. When applied to an educational context a student would be placed into an ‘appropriate’ group of 6 (the Learning Set) based on the following criteria to ensure Principal 3 (heterogeneity) of Learning Set construction is achieved:

academic profile
any additional learning needs
reading age
socio-economic background
socio-cultural background
prior educational establishment e.g. Primary or Middle School

Ensuring that the Learning Set represents a balanced mix of the above criteria has been a successful means of enhancing the heterogeneity of knowledge, understanding and skill potential of the Learning Set as a whole, with that ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. But what has been illuminated through my empirical research is that more was needed in terms of recognising and understanding the ‘parts’ and considering each individual in more depth before constructing the Learning Set.

As such I have devised and implemented an eighth criteria to the construction of a Learning Set;
8. a socialised-learning capacity.

Understanding the Learner

To gain a greater understanding about each learner before determining which individuals should be placed together to create an effective collaborative learning group I designed and applied (to a cohort of 180 11 year old students) a questionnaire comprising open and closed questions of a quantitative and qualitative nature.
These questions were designed to gather general information about the individual which could prove useful pre-knowledge (for example their language ability and their access to the internet at home), gain information relating to criteria 3, 6 and 7 of the heterogeneity principle, and questions which sought to elicit information about the individuals beliefs concerning learning and education and to determine the learners academic self-concept (the Myself As a Learner questionnaire was incorporated into the wider questionnaire to achieve this). In total the questionnaire comprised 51 questions in 3 sections (Tell me about you, Your views about yourself, Learning) and took between 25 and 45 minutes to complete.

Assessing an Individuals Socialised-learning Capacity

To ascertain an individuals ‘potential’ socialised-learning capacity a ‘crude’ point score system was applied to responses relating to the following questions:

Do you like learning the best…(mostly on your own, mostly with others, I don’t know)
Do you like helping others to learn? (Yes-No)
Even if this means you don’t get all your work done? (Yes-No)
Do you get frustrated when other people ask you for help? (Yes-No)
When learning in a group which role do you think you are most likely to take? (options provided)
I find it easy to work with others (MAL scale)
What are you motivated to learn the most by? (options provided)
I can make friends easy (MAL scale)
Which subjects do you believe you are good at? (number of selected subjects used to determine overall subject confidence)

A higher point value was assigned to a response which aligned with a belief which indicated a positive capacity for socialised-learning and a lower point value for a negative capacity for socialised-learning. A total of 23 points were available, with 23 indicating a highly positive capacity for socialised-learning. Once applied a point score was assigned to each individual, with point scores relating to this cohort ranging from 23 down to 5, and 3 coloured bands applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-11, Amber 12-16, Green 17-23). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of socialised-learning capacities.

Assessing an Individuals Academic Self-concept

By incorporating the well established Myself As a Learner suite of 23 multiple choice questions within this questionnaire it was possible to apply the MAL point scoring system and identify each individuals academic self-concept as a numerical score ranging from 53 (low self-concept) too 98 (high self-concept). As with the socialised-learning capacity point score 3 coloured bands were applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-69, Amber 70-79, Green 80-98). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of academic self-concept.

Constructing the Learning Set

Combining the two point scores, socialised-learning capacity and academic self-concept, and producing a third data set banded again into 3 colours (Red 0-79, Amber 80-99, Green 100-120) a new ‘total’ score was created for the mean of group allocation. By ‘reading’ both the point score and banded colours of each of the three categories, as well as considering the 7 criteria outlined above individuals could now be ‘matched’ to others in order to create a balanced and mixed group of learners.

1         2                       3     4     5       6      7
Girl     Islam                        12    71     83     2
Girl     No religion              15   62      77     2
Girl     No religion              16   96     112    2
Boy     Islam                        17    83     100   2
Boy    Judaism            Y     20    71     91     2
Boy    Christianity              21    89    110    2

The above highlights how the Learning Set (column 7) was constructed considering:

  1. gender
  2. identified socio-cultural background
  3. level of English language proficiency (EAL)
  4. socialised-learning capacity
  5. academic self-concept
  6. combined capacity and concept.

_________________________________________________________This new approach was applied in the construction of a new cohort of Learning Sets in the summer of 2015. These individuals have been learning with, as and because of their Learning Sets for 6 academic weeks. So far observations of interactions and the nature of the socialised-learning being undertaken indicates that this more considered and detailed approach to group construction may have achieved its aim of enhancing the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom. I will continue to observe the effects of this approach to grouping and will share my reflections in future articles.

If you want to know more about the approach undertaken or any aspect of Collaborative Group Learning feel free to contact me at


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