A study of project group formation and learning style preferences

A study of project group formation and learning style preferences

J. Hermon, C. McCartan, J. Wang (2008).  A study of project group formation and learning style preferences. 11.

An ongoing survey of the learning style preferences of the student intake in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Queen’s University of Belfast has shown profiles which are different and characteristic of the three undergraduate degree programs offered; namely Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and the recently started (2004) Product Design and Development degrees. A significantly large number of newly enrolled students are dominated by a preference for practical, hands-on learning while many also have avoidance tendencies for learning that requires precise data collection, manipulation and presentation. There are students who are most comfortable when given a clear set of step by step instructions and others who feel out of their comfort zone when asked to generate original ideas or concepts.

In accordance with the CDIO methodology, syllabus and standards the School aspires to produce graduates who are professionally competent in all phases of the development of a product or system. This requires that students develop learning strategies which enable them to effectively and comfortably use a combination of learning styles most appropriate to the task at hand. Introductory courses in the first year of all three degree programs include a number of design build test (DBT) group projects of several weeks duration. These projects are structured to provide learning opportunities in the four CDIO phases and encourage development of the skills valued by employers. There is a challenge however in ensuring that all students in a group avail of the opportunity for personal development across the full spectrum of learning styles that will best prepare them for professional practice. 

It is suggested that a number of factors influence student learning in this context which include the intended learning outcomes, assessment methods and the combination of learning style preferences found within the members of the group. With an objective of improving the effectiveness of the learning experience for all group members an investigation was undertaken to monitor the operation of such projects. Project groups among the three cohorts were formed with equal numbers by random and deliberate selection. Where group selection was controlled a variety of balanced and unbalanced learning styles combinations were constructed. Data on the student experience was gathered through tutor observation records, peer assessment spreadsheets, individual reflective critiques and student questionnaires.

Results suggest that the makeup of the group in terms of learning style preferences is suggestive of how the team will operate and that knowledge of this by students and tutors can be useful in improving the learning experience both during the project and as a reflective process. 

Authors (New): 
John Paul Hermon
Charles McCartan
J Wang
Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
learning styles
Learning strategies
project group formation
personal development planning
independent learning
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