"For most of us Africans, we don't just speak": a qualitative investigation into collaborative heterogeneous PBL group learning

Veena S. Singaram*, Cees P. M. van der Vleuten, Fred Stevens, Diana H. J. M. Dolmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Collaborative approaches such as Problem Based Learning (PBL) may provide the opportunity to bring together diverse students but their efficacy in practice and the complications that arise due to the mixed ethnicity needs further investigation. This study explores the key advantages and problems of heterogeneous PBL groups from the students' and teachers' opinions. Focus groups were conducted with a stratified sample of second year medical students and their PBL teachers. We found that students working in heterogeneous groupings interact with students with whom they don't normally interact with, learn a lot more from each other because of their differences in language and academic preparedness and become better prepared for their future professions in multicultural societies. On the other hand we found students segregating in the tutorials along racial lines and that status factors disempowered students and subsequently their productivity. Among the challenges was also that academic and language diversity hindered student learning. In light of these the recommendations were that teachers need special diversity training to deal with heterogeneous groups and the tensions that arise. Attention should be given to create 'the right mix' for group learning in diverse student populations. The findings demonstrate that collaborative heterogeneous learning has two sides that need to be balanced. On the positive end we have the 'ideology' behind mixing diverse students and on the negative the 'practice' behind mixing students. More research is needed to explore these variations and their efficacy in more detail.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-310
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


  • PBL
  • Collaborative learning
  • Diversity
  • Mixed groups
  • Small group learning


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