Many learning institutions such as high schools, tertiary colleges and universities as well as educational instructors, tutors and lecturers encourage the group work amongst students. According to Fansler and Dearborn (2009), working in groups can be a highly challenging task, especially if members of the discussion group have varied cultural, socio-economic and religious backgrounds. Working in groups may also be tricky and problematic if members of the group are very diverse in age, intellectual ability and ideologies (Fansler & Dearborn 2009). The type of learning style or approach preferred by the members of a group may also affect the activities and level of learning during group discussions in Action Learning Sets. However, when everything is properly planned, organized and well coordinated, group discussions in Action Learning Sets can provide valuable experiences and opportunities for students for effective learning and acquisition of knowledge. In addition, well managed group discussions usually provide valuable opportunities for collaboration, cooperation and assistance amongst individuals who work together as a single unit or entity. Brilhart, Galanes and Adams (2011) assert that group discussions amongst students in Action Learning Sets also enable learners to discover new ways and techniques of carrying out duties and responsibilities or performing various tasks.
Personal Reflections on what I Learnt during Discussions in the Action Learning Set
The Action Learning Sets provide students with ample opportunities to learn and acquire a variety of skills and techniques. During the discussions in the Action Learning Sets, I learnt a variety of skills such as communication skills, interpersonal skills and analytical skills. In the Action Learning Sets, I also learnt that in any social setting or gathering of people, there are three types of characters that prevail. Firstly, we have the group facilitator. The group facilitator is the individual responsible for pushing constructive debates amongst the members of the group as well as cheering the group members to work together harmoniously and cooperatively. The facilitator also encourages and persuades other members of the group to work together peacefully in order to enable attainment of goals and objectives of the group. The facilitator also ensures that no problem arises within the group by preventing and controlling potential conflicts that may arise due to the disagreements between members of the group. The facilitator also ensures that every member of the group is given an opportunity to contribute during the discussions. This helps in encouraging active participation of all members in the Action Learning Set. In order to encourage active participation of the members of the group during discussions in the Action Learning Sets, the facilitator ensures that every member of the group is given an opportunity to speak and contribute. Similarly, the facilitator also encourages free and fair participation during group discussions.
Secondly, there is a timekeeper who is responsible for keeping time and ensuring that activities of the Action Learning Set are conducted effectively and efficiently in accordance with the predetermined schedule or plan. The timekeeper also ensures that the group does not exceed the normal time set for activities during discussions in the Action Learning Sets. In addition, the timekeeper also ensures that all the activities of the group are accomplished within the scheduled period and that no activity is left unresolved or unfinished.
Thirdly, there are contributors. These are the people who throw in views and opinions on various issues or activities during the discussions. Although the contributors may not have any formal posts or positions in the Action Learning Sets like the facilitators and timekeepers, suggestions and contributions made by the contributors often form an integral part of the discussions. In my view, every member of the Action Learning Set has to play a role during group discussions.
On the other hand, I also experienced various difficulties during my participation in the Action Learning Sets. One of the difficulties that I encountered was inadequate allocation of time for discussions in the Action Learning Sets. For my part, we were not given enough time to conduct comprehensive discussions in the Action Learning Set. Thus, I would recommend that the lecturer, professor or group leader should allocate ample time for discussions in the future to enable members of the Action Learning Sets to comprehensively review, discuss and analyze problems presented before them during discussions in the Action Learning Sets.
In my view, one of the major disadvantages of group discussions that I noticed in the Action Learning Set was that the group discussions may inflict feelings of inferiority on some members, especially if most of their contributions are not accepted by the other group members. For example, if group members continue to disregard the suggestions and contributions of a particular member, he or she is likely to develop low self-esteem, loss self-confidence and feel inferior amongst the other group members. This is highly discouraging and should be avoided during group discussions in Action Learning Sets. For my part, group members should treat each other equally regardless of personal or intellectual differences. For example, every point or suggestion contributed by a member of the Action Learning Set should be analyzed in depth and appropriate corrections should be made without automatically disregarding them.
Generally, I would assert that the Action Learning Set gave us a suitable opportunity to learn from each other and to share new ideas. Moreover, the Action Learning Set enabled us to highlight some of the major problems that we experience in our school work and learned how to construct and formulate alternative solutions to the problems by listening to the suggestions, advices, views and opinions given by fellow group members. Furthermore, the Action Learning Set also helped me to learn how to build strong interpersonal relationships with other people in society or the outside-classroom world.
Skills that I acquired or developed through Participation in the Action Learning Process
Through participation in the Action Learning Set, I acquired a variety of skills that I am certain will be very useful in my future endeavors. Firstly, I learnt how to overcome fear when talking to other people. In the past, I was afraid of speaking in front of many people or within a gathering of people. However, since my involvement in the Action Learning Set, I learned how to overcome and conquer such fear or group phobia. For example, I learnt that the fear of talking in front of crowds of people can be triumphed over through keeping good eye contacts with the target audiences. In addition, I realized that an individual can overcome the fear of speaking to groups of people by ensuring that he or she is adequately prepared prior to the presentation.
Secondly, participation in the Action Learning Set also enabled me to acquire more knowledge on various social aspects of people such as individual characters, beliefs and values. I also learnt how to deal with people from various socio-cultural backgrounds. Thirdly, I also learnt how to think critically on various issues, challenges and problems faced in life. Thus, I would assert that the Action Learning Set enabled me to acquire divergent and critical thinking abilities. Divergent and critical thinking have sharpened my ability to generate numerous alternative solutions to various problems that I face in life. Similarly, through participation in the Action Learning Set, I also acquired analytical skills that are useful in evaluating, analyzing and scrutinizing various problems that I face in my daily life.
Through the active participation in the Action Learning Set, I also learnt how to cope with different opinions raised by other people who view things or issues from perspectives that are different from ours. For example, one may hold a different opinion from the one I hold. Through adequate integration of these varied views and opinions, I learnt how to cope with and accept personal differences without unnecessary disagreements. Moreover, I also learn how effectively handle disagreements and conflicts. During the group discussions, various people would disagree on certain issues. This resulted into mild clashes and conflicts. I also learnt that during group discussions or teamwork, no particular member should be allowed to exercise excessive control or unnecessary dominance in the group or team. In my view, excessive dominance usually leads to interruption of operations and activities of the group. In addition, I also learnt how various dysfunctional roles such as aggression, showing off and dominance in the group can be avoid during the group discussions, and how assignment of duties and setting of ground rules before the beginning of the discussions can help in saving time.
Most importantly, I acquired effective communication skills during my participation in the Action Learning Set. This has helped me to improve my communication skills. The acquisition of appropriate communication skills was made possible and easy due to the sharing and exchange of ideas, views and opinions.
What I would have improved during discussions in the Action Learning Set is participation of individual members. I would ensure that every member actively participates and contributes to the activities of the group.
Evaluation of the personal performance in the Action Learning Set based on contributions during the discussions
During the discussions in the Action Learning Set, we were actively involved in strategizing various solutions to the problems that were brought forward by individual members. Moreover, numerous questions were asked and explanations generated in order to reach conclusions on the most appropriate solutions to the problems. This improved my understanding of how to tackle various social and academic problems. In short, I acquired new problem solving abilities.
In my Action Learning Set group, I played the role of an observant by paying close attention to what was happening in the discussion and taking notes on some of the key points that were being raised during the discussion. The other group members acted as time keepers and contributors. My target was to obtain as much information as possible. In my view, this target was achieved because I managed to write as many points as possible which I have been using for references when dealing with similarly problems.
Impact of involvement in the Action Learning Set
For my part, involvement in the Action Learning Set has enabled me to acquire various knowledge, skills and techniques that I would use at the workplace in the future. For example, the interpersonal skills I acquired would be used in management of people or teams at the workplace. Similarly, through participation in the Action Learning Set, I acquired techniques for successful time management that I have used to improve my performance at the university through effective and efficient management of my time.
What I tried to do in the Action Learning Set that worked well
One of the things that I tried to do and worked well was mediating and resolving a conflict that rose between the two members of our group. During the discussions, two members of our group had a strong disagreement on one of the issues we were solving. I had to intercede to help solve the disagreement between the two members.
In my view, the mediation and resolution worked well because of the approach to the conflict resolution that I used to solve the disagreement. In order to create an understanding between the two members, I had to elaborately explain to both of them how they would end the disagreement. This involved the use of the accommodation approach to conflict resolution in which all parties involved in a conflict agree to accept the situation as it is. Neither party wins nor losses.
On the other hand, the most difficult aspect of my presentation was speaking in front of my group members because of my shy nature. Talking about my working experience when I was in Belgium was quite difficult for me due to the nasty experiences I had as a result of language barrier. Similarly, I also become nervous and uneasy. This greatly affected my voice during the presentation. I realized that my voice was not clear due to the nervousness and anxiety. I also learnt that I should try to speak louder and clearer in the future. I should also avoid anxiety and fretfulness. Similarly, I learned that I should not speak too fast or too slow during the presentation in the future. Moreover, I also discovered that adequate practice prior to starting a presentation is an essential tool for overcoming nervousness.
In relation to the challenges that I faced while working in Belgium as a result of language barrier, I have decided that in case I encounter similar challenges in the future, I would promptly look for someone who can assist me by interpreting the language. The benefits of this approach would be timely elimination of potential risks of being cheated again due to the lack of understanding of the language used during communication or conversation.
Continued Incorporation of My Learning into Personal Development and Work Practice
For my part, I would continue to incorporate my learning during the discussion into personal development and work practice by applying the skills learnt from the Action Learning Set at the workplace in the future. For example, I would use communication and interpersonal skills to interact with fellow colleagues at the workplace. Similarly, I would use the analytical skills I acquired from the Action Learning Set to solve the problems or challenges at the workplace.
I would conclude by asserting that the group discussions are essential learning tools for students. I would also urge that group discussions should be guided by predetermined rules and regulations to ensure smooth flow of activities during the discussions. Group discussions should be polite, sociable, open and friendly in order to encourage and promote active participation of all members. Members of the Action Learning Sets should not view group discussions as the platforms for competition, but rather as opportunities for tackling problems together. In my opinion, group discussions should be held with the sole intention of encouraging learning amongst the students. Group discussions can also be used to enhance the linguistic abilities of students because they facilitate acquisition of new vocabularies during the discussions. Generally, working in groups can be real fun if all members adhere to group rules, actively get involved in the activities of the group and unnecessary interruptions are avoided.