Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings


Exploring and exploiting collective settings and tasks to support individual learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … contributing appropriately
  • Learner is … a collaborator
  • Learning is … developing understanding and/or skill
  • Teaching is … supervising, facilitating, guiding




Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings are concerned with matters of designing tasks, designating roles, and structuring contexts in ways that support the developments of individuals’ conceptual understandings and soft (social) skills. Emblematic instances of Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings – that is, discourses that incorporate advice and insights from virtually every other discourse in the cluster – include:
  • Bansho (Board Writing) (M. Yoshida) – a structured approach to the use of the chalkboard (or whiteboard) during lessons by systematically developing core ideas and highlighting key connections – all while creating a trace of the emergence of student insights.
  • Co-Constructionism (Jocelyn Nuttall, 2000s) – a classroom application of the principle the students can learn from one another in well-structured collaborative settings developed around meaningful tasks and issues with the strategic support of more-expert knowers.
  • Cognitively Guided Instruction (1990s) – a model for teaching based on student knowledge and performance, with a strong emphasis on group process in which learners’ methods and solutions are encouraged over imposed procedures
  • Collaborative Constructivism – an umbrella notion that applies to any discourse on teaching that combines a focus on individual sense-making with collective-based support and validation of that sense-making
  • Engaged Learning (North Central Regional Education Laboratory, 1990s) – a model for teaching that advocates for a focus on learning through multidisciplinary, real-world projects that involve learners with diverse others in all aspects of design, implementation, and assessment
  • Kikan-Shidō (Teaching Between Desks) – an aspect of formal instruction, during individual-seatwork or small-groupwork components of a lesson, when the teacher gives advice to a specific student or group at a volume intended for other students to listen. That is, Kikan-Shidō is a mode of whole-class instruction that has the appearance of individual assistance.
  • Lesson Study (Jugyō Kenkyū) – a model of teacher collaboration developed in Japan in which small groups of teachers work together through an iterative process to develop, enact, critique, and hone lessons on specific topics. Variations include:
    • Learning Study (Mun Ling Lo, Ference Marton, 2010s) – a form of Lesson Study that is explicitly focused on using Variation Theory to structure students’ learning experiences
  • Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Lessons (POGIL) (The POGIL Project; 2010s) – a mashup of several principles drawn from Non-Trivial Constructivisms and Socio-Cultural-Focused Discourses, including teacher-as-facilitator/guide, tasks grounded in real-life experiences, emphasis on meaningful/practical applications, learner choice, student agency, critical engagement, self-managed teams, and an emphasis on the Learning Cycle Metaphor
  • Reality Pedagogy (Christopher Emdin, 2010s) – a mashup of several principles that are prominent among Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings, with “5 C’s” serving as the core of the discourse: Cogenerative (collective) Dialogues; Coteaching (i.e., with students); Cosmopolitanism (student agency); Context (extending beyond the classroom); Content (in relationship to learner knowledge)
  • Teaching Sprint (Simon Breakspear, 2020s) – an approach to team-based collaboration comprising three phrases: Prepare (co-defining a focus), Sprint (implementing proposed innovations), Review (reflecting on efforts)
Because discourses in this cluster are concerned simultaneously with individuality and collectivity, they tend to share many constructs. However, the emphases afforded those constructs vary considerably across discourses – so much so that they can be used to distinguish among discourses:
  • Collectivism – perceiving of the individual as not just a member of a larger group, but as an integral element of a larger whole
  • Individualism – an attitude that emphasizes (and, in more extreme versions, privileges) the individual’s rights, choices, beliefs, and relationships
  • Interpersonal – an adjective applied mainly to interactions (and the communicative and social skills that enable those interactions)
  • Interpersonal Learning Group – an umbrella notion that can be applied to any group that is formed for reasons that include improving self-understanding and social relationships
  • Intersubjective – meaning “between subjectivity,” the adjective Intersubjective applies to situations where multiple individuals share personal experiences and interpretations in ways intended to influence one another’s understandings and attitudes
Closely related, concerns with collective structures to manage individual comportment tend to figure prominently among Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings. Relevant constructs include:
  • Social Norm – a collectively determined standard of acceptability that applies across all groups. Types of Social Norm include:
    • Injunctive Norm (Prescriptive Norm) – a directive Social Norm – that is, one that operates as a prescription on how one should think, feel, or act in specific situation
    • Descriptive Norm – a Social Norm that is based on observations of situation-specific actions
  • Social Convention – a well-established, broadly known rule, procedure, or custom. Most often, the notion of Social Convention is applied to matters of etiquette or ceremony.
  • Group Norm – effectively, a Social Norm that applies only to members of a specific, well-defined group
Regarding interactive dynamics, a prominent emphasis across Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings is that they should be defined by listening. On that matter, there are dozens of relevant typologies of listening in the literature, most of which lean on and/or trace back to:
  • Active Listening (Carl R. Rogers, 1950s) – first developed as technique in Psychotherapy, Active Listening frames listening to others not as a passive process, but as a vibrant interpretive process that involves attending to meanings, nuances, tone, body language, and so on. It has been taken up by many educators, especially those aligned with Authentic Education, as an important attitude for teachers.
  • Reflective Listening (Carl R. Rogers, 1950s) – a two-step communication strategy that involves, firstly, eliciting information from a speaker and, secondly, paraphrasing that information while seeking confirmation of appropriate interpretation. It is commonly recommended strategy for teachers among advocates of Non-Trivial Constructivisms.
More specific to group settings, the following is an illustrative example from among the many typologies of listening that have been developed:
  • Downloading (Otto Scharmer, 2010s) – listening rooted in habit; a mode of listening that triggers no dissonance with established understanding
  • Factual Listening (Otto Scharmer, 2010s) – attending to evidence in a manner that might disrupt assumptions and habits of interpretation
  • Empathic Listening (Otto Scharmer, 2010s) – a mode of attendance that entails tuning into another’s point of view
  • Generative Listening (Otto Scharmer, 2010s) – an attitude toward engaging with others that is optimistic, non-judgmental, and growth-minded
More specific to the role of the educator, the following is an illustrative typology of teacher listening modes:
  • Evaluative Listening (Brent Davis, 1990s) – listening for (e.g., correct answers or acceptable interpretations), experienced by the teacher as a taking in of information from students
  • Interpretive Listening (Brent Davis, 1990s) – listening to (i.e., a learner’s meaning-making), experienced by the teacher as an effort to make sense of a student’s emerging understandings
  • Hermeneutic Listening (Brent Davis, 1990s) – listening with (i.e., others), experienced by the teacher as a fusion of intentions and sensemaking efforts with learners
A number of theories and constructs have been developed that focus specifically on the impacts of collective settings on individual performance, including (listed chronologically):
  • Social Facilitation Theory (Norman Triplett, 1890s) – hypotheses and conjectures related to the observation that one tends to do better on tasks when engaged with others (either in coaction or who serve as an audience) rather that doing the task alone. Subdiscourses include:
    • Audience Effect (Norman Triplett, 1890s) – the type of Social Facilitation that occurs when one has an audience
  • Ringelmann Effect (Maximilien Ringelmann, 1910s) – the observation that the productivity of individual group members tends to drop as the group gets larger. Associated discourses include:
    • Bystander Effect (Bystander Apathy) (John Darley, Bibb Latané, 1960s) – the observation that individuals are less likely to assist a victim when there are other people present
    • Social Compensation (1990s) – when one or more individuals exerts more effort as part of a group than they would have exerted working alone.
    • Social Loafing (1970s)– when one or more individuals exerts less effort as part of a group than they would have exerted working alone. Social Loafing is sometimes used to explain those occasions that a collection of people accomplishes less than the combined output of the same people working individually.
  • Stern Activation Theory (Generalized Drive Hypothesis) (Robert Zajonc, 1960s) – a hypothesis on why the presence of others is sometimes associated with an improvement in one’s performance and other times associated with a worsening of performance. Stern Activation Theory links the presence of others to Arousal (see Motivation Theories), which is beneficial when tasks are simple or mastered and detrimental when tasks are complex or not-yet-mastered.
  • Distraction-Conflict Theory (Distraction/Conflict Theory) (R.S. Baron, 1970s) – a hypothesis on why the presence of others is sometimes associated with an improvement in one’s performance and other times associated with a worsening of performance. Distraction-Conflict Theory links the presence of others to Attention (see Motivation Theories), which can be overtaxed if one is paying attention both to the task and to others. More recent versions of Distraction-Conflict Theory also attend to other possible demands on attention, such as smartphones and flashing lights.
  • Adaptive Performance (1990s) – a workplace-based construct used in reference to an employee’s ability to cope with stress, problems, and emergencies, as well as changes in personnel, roles, structures, technologies, and other demands


With the rise in prominence of Collectivist Learning Theories since the 1970s, advice to educators has split into two principal streams: Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings and Discourses on Learning Collectives. The former cluster is encountered much more frequently in both professional and research literatures – which shouldn’t be surprising, given the popular tendency to conflate “learner” with “individual.”


  • Active Listening
  • Adaptive Performance
  • Audience Effect
  • Bansho (Board Writing)
  • Bystander Effect (Bystander Apathy)
  • Co-Constructionism
  • Cognitively Guided Instruction
  • Collaborative Constructivism
  • Collectivism
  • Descriptive Norm
  • Distraction-Conflict Theory (Distraction/Conflict Theory)
  • Downloading
  • Empathic Listening
  • Engaged Learning
  • Evaluative Listening
  • Factual Listening
  • Generative Listening
  • Group Norm
  • Hermeneutic Listening
  • Individualism
  • Injunctive Norm (Prescriptive Norm)
  • Interpersonal
  • Interpersonal Learning Group
  • Interpretive Listening
  • Intersubjective
  • Kikan-Shidō (Teaching Between Desks)
  • Learning Study
  • Lesson Study (Jugyō Kenkyū)
  • Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Lessons (POGIL)
  • Reality Pedagogy
  • Reflective Listening
  • Ringelmann Effect
  • Social Compensation
  • Social Convention
  • Social Facilitation Theory
  • Social Loafing
  • Social Norm
  • Stern Activation Theory (Generalized Drive Hypothesis)
  • Teaching Sprint

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Discourses on Individual Learning in Group Settings” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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