The Value of Learning in a Group Setting

June 13, 2014

by Bill Caplan

With all the webinars, books, podcasts, and other self-guided opportunities for learning, is there still a value in coming together with your peers in a group learning environment? Absolutely. Though learning on your own certainly has its merits, group learning can provide several valuable advantages over individual self-tutelage.

Others’ Experiences Inform Our Own

To begin with, collaboration stimulates our minds and enables us to draw from each other’s experiences. Intuitively, we understand that group learning brings a new dynamic to the learning process, and there is emerging educational theory to support this idea. According to Marilla D. Svnicki, PhD., a University of Texas professor specializing in cognition, human learning, and motivation, group learning offers several distinct advantages. Specifically:

  • Participants gain a more complete understanding by comparing themselves to others;
  • The need to explain one’s point of view encourages elaboration and deeper understanding;
  • Those with better skills serve as models; and
  • The discussion of more complex topics promotes sophisticated thinking.

Group Facilitators Offer a Neutral Perspective

The theory is important, but in a business setting, we all know the proof is in the practical application. Here at CONNSTEP, we have an opportunity to see these benefits firsthand in our many in-house professional development courses.

Our instructors are leading experts in their respective fields, and often they have personal understanding of their students’ working environments. What’s more, they bring both a neutrality regarding the personalities involved and an objectivity in terms of solutions.

The Diversity Factor Expands Our Worldview

CONNSTEP’s Continuous Improvement Champion Certification classes are one such example of group learning that offers real, applicable benefits.  Combining subject matter expertise with students from some of the most forward-thinking manufacturing businesses in the state creates unique group-learning experiences for today’s advanced manufacturers.

“It takes you outside your own experience and shows you how the world works around you,” says instructor Kelly McDaniel, an organizational development expert from DeLisaGroup. “CONNSTEP’s training options can include learning with fellow team members from your company or with people from other organizations, so you never feel like you are being pigeonholed or stuck in your own world. That diversity is a key factor when it comes to learning.”

Mark Paggioli, CONNSTEP’s Manager, Growth and Innovation Services, agrees.  He leads CONNSTEP’s Business Growth Program, where he sees, “Everyone brings perspectives oriented to their own expertise.  Learning as part of a group means being exposed to a diversity of ideas, many of which have been proven to work in other businesses.”

Paggioli goes on to draw a parallel to the Tech Scouting program, which helps manufacturers seek out solutions from innovators outside the industries they normally interact with.  “Someone, somewhere has probably already solved your problem,” he says.

“The shortest path to knowledge is using others’ perspective to inform your own.”

We Hear and Learn From Different Personality Types

Personality management is another important aspect.  McDaniel uses a number of exercises to illustrate the importance of personalities in a group setting.  In one exercise, participants witness the ways that various personalities—from the micro manager to the hands-off manager—impact group morale and productivity.

“In almost every case,” McDaniel says, “we see that a boss who involves people, lets them have choices, and provides support without taking over creates the greatest effectiveness and highest morale.”

Paggioli puts a different spin on the issue of personalities in group learning.  “An outside training facilitator can be very helpful when it comes to moderating personalities.  By nature, they approach the situation with no baggage or preexisting viewpoints that often exist within companies. While certain people may come forward in a group setting, others may retreat; a third-party instructor can prevent the former from dominating the discussion, while also drawing ideas out of the latter.”

Hands-On Exercises Deepen Learning Capacity

One of the more interesting features of CONNSTEP’s continuous improvement training is its use of the literal building blocks of our collective childhood: Legos.  Participants form diverse teams to fill manufacturing, quality, shipping, distribution, and management roles.

As the exercise unfolds, participants begin to implement Lean processes in order to enhance their team’s performance.  Using Legos to simulate a manufacturing environment along with the application of Lean Principles enables the work team to get a feel for workflow that reaches beyond their own workstation.  It is an achievement that would be nearly impossible for an individual to replicate at their desk alone, and these group simulations help teams experience first hand the ways Lean principles support various manufacturing job responsibilities.

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“Leveraging the abilities of people who have seen what works—and what doesn’t—brings a more diverse understanding,” Paggioli says. “Chances are that someone, either a participant or instructor, will have seen a similar challenge in a different setting.  Although they may not know the ins and outs of your specific business, they are likely to know how to overcome them.”

A cooperative group environment can provide opportunities for greater breadth of wisdom, and other key benefits that cannot be achieved on one’s own. Contact us today to learn how our group learning programs can get you on the road to collaborating for success.


CONNSTEP solved a huge problem for us and helped us bring our delivery rate to 100%. As a direct result of that, we have been awarded with an increase in business which, ultimately, will also benefit (our supplier) Har-Conn.”

CT manufacturer Pegaasus

Chris DePentima

CEO, Pegasus Manufacturing Inc.

“I see great value in the new experiences and perspectives CONNSTEP brings to our business, at reasonable prices. They’re not like consultants, they’re like partners in the business – willing to roll up their sleeves and help.”

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Mark Burzynski

President, Arthur G Russell Co

“CONNSTEP has proved to be a tremendous resource for ESI. CONNSTEP has helped us to adapt to today’s marketplace and remain a quality minded, competitive global player. Our ISO/TS16949 implementation process was efficient and rewarding. I look forward to our future projects with CONNSTEP.”

esi CT manufacturer

Ron Delfini

President, Engineering Specialties Inc.

“CONNSTEP worked with FuelCell Energy to educate and facilitate Lean initiatives and to help meet our needs to establish an overall production improvement plan. This plan has been utilized over a period of time as a ‘guiding light’ to spur numerous improvements that dramatically reduced our product cost.”

Tom Lucas

Manager, Fuel Cell Energy

“CONNSTEP is a valuable partner to Hologic, providing the expertise and ‘outside eyes’ everyone needs to keep their continuous improvement on track. We are now well-positioned on a dynamic growth path and look forward to a long-term relationship with CONNSTEP.”

Greg Safarik

VP Manufacturing Operations, Hologic

“Our experience working with CONNSTEP has brought us benefits we never expected. It’s a great team to work with!”

Bruce Wheeler

VP of Operations, Metal Finishing Technologies Inc.

“The goals of the team were to reduce manufacturing lead-time, reduce floor space utilized, and increase worker productivity. All the goals were met. CONNSTEP helped us to better compete.”

Tornik CT manufacturer

Dan Rubbo

General Manager, Tornik LLC

“The Business Growth Program is working well for us. We enhanced our website following the meetings to improve our SEO and become more visible to search engines. The segment on negotiating …  promoted changes in our thinking and improved how we interact with customers. The mentoring between sessions was helpful in boosting our progress.”

CT manufacturer Colonial Spring

Bill Lathrop

President, Colonial Spring Co.

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