New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Team Learning Behaviors: Supporting team-based learning in a first-year design and communications course Background: This research paper describes a study that investigated two types of team learning behavior – exploring and exploiting – in the context of first-year engineering student teams. Exploration and exploitation are classified as two distinct learning activities. Exploratory learning (the pursuit of new knowledge) involves flexibility, variation, and experimentation. Exploitative learning (use of existing knowledge) involves refinement, efficiency, and execution of work. Thus, exploratory learning involves acquiring new capabilities, whereas exploitative learning involves refining existing knowledge and abilities.
We hypothesized that, at early stages of a teams’ project work, exploratory behaviors are helpful while exploitative ones are harmful. Importantly, at later stages this relationship reverses. At some point teams need to transition from acquiring knowledge to refining and executing based on that knowledge. Accordingly, at later stages, exploitative behaviors may be helpful whereas continued exploratory behaviors may distract from successful execution of the work.
Goal orientation (GO) is a dispositional, motivational orientation that directs an individual’s approach to achievement situations. There are two primary types of GOs: learning goal orientation (LGO) and performance goal orientation (PGO). Team members’ traits can be averaged to represent the team’s aggregate trait level, which can be predictive of team processes and performance. Thus, we consider dispositional GO at the team-level as an antecedent of team-level learning behavior.
LGO is characterized by a drive to explore new topics or techniques with an emphasis on gaining new skills and expertise. In contrast, PGO is described as a concern for executing and accomplishing work in order to receive external rewards and demonstrate ability. Thus, PGO individuals seek to demonstrate competence, whereas LGO individuals seek to build competence. We hypothesized that teams high on LGO will spend more time engaged in exploratory learning because it offers a chance to gain new knowledge. On the other hand, we predicted that high PGO teams will engage in learning behaviors that have a stronger connection to task completion. Given the uncertain nature of exploring, PGO teams may be more likely to focus on exploitative learning activities in order to build on existing certainties.
Method: The sample consists of 569 students (29% female) enrolled in an engineering design and communication course in a large North American university. Students were arranged into 4-person teams and were required to build a functioning prototype of a rover capable of picking up and displacing a rock. Learning measures were collected during lab each week over the course of the project. Additionally, we collected trait information (i.e., Goal Orientations) from all students at the beginning of the study. After teams presented their prototype, teaching assistants completed innovation ratings for the teams in their lab section. Random coefficient modeling, a multi-level procedure that handles non-independence of observations, was used to test the study hypotheses.
Results: Findings indicated that teams tend to pursue both learning actions simultaneously and increase these behaviors over time, however these learning behaviors were not related to subsequent innovation performance. Additionally, we found that the composition of team members’ personality traits predicted the type of learning behaviors that teams engaged in. Specifically, teams consisting of members with high LGOs engaged in significantly more exploratory learning than teams lower on this trait. Interestingly, teams with a high PGOs engaged in greater levels of exploitative learning behaviors. Implications: The implications of the study findings are three-fold. First, our research highlights the importance of considering team composition variables when grouping students into project teams. Second, it calls attention to the temporal nature of exploratory and exploitative learning activities. Third, it suggests future research is needed to examine the implication of these learning activities on outcomes other than innovation (e.g., individual learning, project grades, team potency).
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