Using Individual Strengths to Benefit Groups
in Problem-Based Learning
By Lane Vanderweele
Many people believe that working in groups with people who are very similar makes the process easier and more successful. However, working in a group that does not utilize individual strengths is detrimental to the overall performance of the group. Failing to understand and utilize the individual strengths within our group means that we will never fully succeed. Our group is equipped with unique differences that will promote individual strengths, improve individual weaknesses, and lead to our group’s success.
Realizing Our Strengths and Weaknesses is Crucial
Many groups do not realize the value of individuals using their unique talents or intelligences. However, for our group to be fully effective, each member must be aware of his or her individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to utilize them for the overall benefit of the group. If our group fails to realize the individual members’ strengths and weaknesses, we will have internal conflict and fail to examine all problem-solving possibilities and solutions. For our group to be effective, we must have individuals with strengths and interests in action taking, problem finding, decision making, and idea finding (Peterson, 2004).
Each member of our group learns and expresses his or her knowledge in different ways. We must be aware of this process and preference in order for the group to benefit; thus, one of the first steps our group must take is to realize the problem-solving preferences and strengths of each group member. One useful method is the Two-Dimensional Basadur Problem-Solving Framework, in which individuals determine if they learn by concrete experience or reflective thinking, as well as if they use knowledge for evaluation or for ideation (Peterson, 2004). Once our group becomes aware of the strengths we have within our various chosen preferences, our group can begin using these strengths to our advantage and work to improve our weaknesses.
Taking a Beneficial Group Role
Many groups who actually are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their members often choose to ignore it. However, for our group to be successful, not only do we need to determine our group members’ strengths and weaknesses, we need to use them in determining proper group roles. If we do not use our knowledge of our group members’ problem-solving preferences and strengths, our group’s success will not be any greater than a homogeneous group that fails to realize the potential benefits it could have. Thus, our group must take our individual awareness to perform the critical task of defining roles and thus, providing a focus for our group (Fogarty, 1997).
Defining roles for individuals within our group will give everyone a purpose and critical function. When we are able to take ownership of our personal strengths, we can use them as we solve problems and assist other group members who do not excel in the area of our strength (Peterson, 2004). Realizing the attributes of our group and knowing our specific function within the group will help in our problem-solving success (Woods, 1994).
Using Our Individual Roles for Group Collaboration
Many believe that individuals who bring a different way of thinking and problem-solving to a group lacks unity and will never reach a solution that they can agree upon. However, it is imperative that our group values the diversity amongst our group members and the variety of intelligences that we each bring to the group (Woods, 1994). If our group is capable of collaborating while using our differences to acknowledge other viewpoints and solutions, we will be much more successful. Our group members’ various viewpoints will provide an understanding and respect for ideas and solutions that would be overlooked in a homogeneous group.
Using each member’s unique thoughts and multiple intelligences is a critical resource tool. Through collaboration, our group will be able to see other kinds of problem-solving strategies that other members of our group use, and learn from each other, while also collaborating to explore every possible solution to the problem (De Gallow, 2011). If our group is able to combine our intelligences to make meaning of situations and explore all avenues, our group will be capable of determining the best solution for the problem we are working to solve (Fogarty, 1997).
Our group is equipped with unique differences that will promote individual strengths, improve individual weaknesses, and lead to our group’s success. If our group fails to utilize these strengths, our group will never work together successfully or find the best solutions to our group’s problems. Using our individual strengths to collaborate as we improve our weaknesses will lead to a semester of success. To begin this success, the first step is determining exactly what these strengths and weaknesses are.
De Gallow, . (2011). What is problem-based learning?. In Problem-Based Learning Faculty Institute. Retrieved September 16, 2011, from http://www.pbl.uci.edu/whatispbl.html
Fogarty, R. (1997). Problem-based learning and other curriculum models for the multiple intelligences classroom (pp. 147-173). Arlington Heights, IL: IRI/Skylight Training and Publishing.
Peterson, T. O. (2004, October). So you're thinking of trying problem based learning?: Three critical success factors for implementation. Journal of Management Education, 28(5), 630-647.
Woods, D. (1994). How to gain the most from PBL (pp. 122-145). Waterdown, Ontario: Donald Wood Publisher.