November 18th, 2010

Solutions to Social Loafing


Social loafing (I do find this bit of jargon amusing), defined as “group members who shirk their obligations in the hopes of benefiting from the work of others. …” (p. 256, a definition cited from previous work). It is one of the aspects of group work that students and faculty find equally distressing. This study tested six hypotheses regarding social loafing. The hypotheses and findings are listed below.

Hypothesis 1: As the scope of the group project gets bigger, there will be a greater incidence of social loafing on group projects. Confirmed

Hypothesis 2: As the size of the group increases, there will be greater incidence of social loafing. Confirmed

Hypothesis 3: Compared to instructor-assigned groups, student groups formed through self-selection will experience lower incidence of social loafing. Not supported

Hypothesis 4: As the number of peer evaluations increases, there will be lower incidence of social loafing on group projects. Confirmed

Hypothesis 5: As the incidence of social loafing on group projects decreases, students are likely to be more satisfied with their group members’ contributions to the project. Confirmed

Hypothesis 6: Satisfaction with group members’ contributions is positively related to students’ perceptions of grade fairness. Confirmed

I love this kind of pedagogical research. It is so applied—these are results that can be used. It is one study, but the empirical design is robust, which adds to the generalizability of the findings. Successful group learning experiences are very much a function of how the group work is designed and projects can be designed in ways that reduce potential problems. So, if members doing their fair share is a concern or has been an issue in group work projects, tackle that problem by limiting the size of the project (you can always add a second one), keeping the groups small (other research recommends 4-6), incorporating a peer assessment component, and taking that peer feedback seriously when assigning grades for group projects.

Reference: Aggarwal, P., and O’Brien, C. L. (2008). Social loafing in group projects: Structural antecedents and effect on student satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Education, 30 (3), 255-264.