How to Create Online Work Groups

Online work groups seems like a technical term, but it really is a collaboration teaching strategy in the eLearning environment. It gets tricky if certain dimensions are not handled with care. In this article, we illuminate those dimensions. It’s worth the effort as online work groups are the closest you can take your learners to the performance context of any industry.

There are a hundred reasons why online work groups created for an eLearning groups go awry. The ill-design and implementation of these work groups is the main culprit.

Designing assessments that are linked to your eLearning course learning objectives is one of the main features of a course. Creating challenging assessments is important to raise the bar for learning. It is even more important to know the difference between individual and group assessments. If collaboration will make learners participate productively and also learn from each other, then create unique tasks for all involved.

To understand this process, let’s identify the three features of online work group activities:

  • There is no one correct answer. Discussions are based on individual research, perspectives and experiences.
  • Group tasks can deal with culture comparisons, analysis of a case or innovating a solution.
  • There are several elements to investigate in a group activity. For this reason, a JIGSAW puzzle model approach is best suited to create unique tasks for each student.

Use your learning management system to create online work groups with well-defined task list. All tasks and activities should be transparent to all groups. Progress should also be noted and updated in a timely manner. In order to fulfill such requirement, integrate the online work group rules into the grading rubric of the project. Scores and grades are great motivators for maintaining discipline in the online environment.

Here’s an online work group preparation criteria by Jean Mandernach, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Grand Canyon University:


  • Learners should appreciate the value of both the product and process of the assignment.
  • Learners should have experience and knowledge of working in an online learning environment.
  • Restrict group members to maximum of 5 to ensure everyone gets to participate and submit equally.
  • Before the group assignment begins, learners should have ample community building experiences and opportunities.


  • Assignment should be authentic: it should emulate the performance context and it should be measurable.
  • The assignment should rely on collaborative work.
  • Learners should get the performance criteria in the form of rubric before they begin the group project.
  • The assignment should create an environment of interdependence and team spirit, in which learners believe that their individual success depends on the team’s success.
  • The assignment should allow sufficient amount of preparation time.
  • Assignment enables individual members a degree of control on their project.


  • Learners are provided with tools and instructions to facilitate online communication.
  • Each group has a collaborative workspace within the online course.
  • Learners have the desired technology skills to work in an online learning environment.
  • Work-spaces provide back-up opportunities in case of technology failure.


  • Grading and evaluation hold weight for the process and the product of the project.
  • The interaction process and quality of discussions are mentored and monitored.
  • Self and peer evaluations are included in the process to monitor individual involvement and accountability.

An eLearning course is seldom complete without a group activity. With these features for preparing online work groups, we are confident that you can turn your next eLearning course into a satisfying experience.

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