Can Group Knowledge Diversity be Created On-the-Fly?: Effects of Collaboration Task Design on Performance and Transfer

AbstractResearch on human collaboration has suggested that knowledge diversity improves group performance in complex tasks such as design, problem solving and forecasting. However, in educational settings it is important to also ask whether learning and transfer for individuals within the group is enhanced or hindered by diversity in collaborative work groups. We compare performance in a transportation network design task for two types of collaborative groups, and compare their performance to that of individuals. In one group condition (Distributed Knowledge) each dyad member has been trained on a different subtask of a complex joint design problem in advance of the collaborative activity. These different training tasks should predispose the two dyad members to adopt different perspectives, issues, and design strategies, thus generating greater cognitive diversity for the group. In the other group condition (Shared Knowledge) both dyad participants experienced the same training involving both subtasks. Task performance results show a group versus individual advantage in performance, but a non-significant difference in performance between the two group knowledge diversity conditions. The group knowledge manipulation did affect group process, as measured by time spent collaborating, number of turns taken, and number of words spoken. The findings suggest that group diversity can promote individual learning and transfer when sufficient time is allowed for discussion and group work.

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