According to a new study, students develop better decision making skills when they learn in groups. The study in question had some fifth graders work in groups over a six-week curriculum in which the explored the question of whether or not a community should hire hunters to kill a local pack of wolves. Other students went through the same curriculum via teacher-led discussions. In both cases, they explored such topics as impact on the ecosystem, local economy, and public policy, and addressed differing viewpoints on the problem.

Following the curriculum, students wrote two essays: one on their personal decision on the wolf issue, and one about an unrelated story about a moral dilemma between two friends. A third control group just wrote the second essay. The students from the group study part of the study were better able to act as decision makers in the context of the second essay and considered a wider array of viewpoints than did students in either of the other groups.

The study also found that students from the teacher-led group were no better at decision making than their peers in the control group. They found that collaborate learning offered a better environment for students to develop and retain skills than a teacher-led environment. The implications of this study could be profound. While more studies like this should be funded to investigate the issue further, the study does beg the question of whether or not we’re shortchanging students in the current, standardized test driven educational environment.

The need to maintain high scores and hold to specific, tightly paced curriculums makes it hard to teachers to allow students to learn at a more reasonable pace and in an environment that is better suited to human learning. Students in such environments aren’t learning to innovate or to apply their skills to unrelated issues, or at least, not well enough.