Interdisciplinary groups perform better than intradisciplinary groups in online group discussion activities

Med Educ Online. 2021 Dec;26(1):1886649. doi: 10.1080/10872981.2021.1886649.


Online classes have been provided for health-care pre-licensure learners during the novel coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the utility of online group work in interprofessional education. A total of 209 students were assigned to 50 groups (18 medical student groups, 13 nursing student groups, and 19 mixed medical/nursing student groups). Learners performed group work during the orientation for the course, which was hosted using an online video conferencing system. The learners first performed the activity individually (10 min) and then engaged in a group discussion to reach consensus on their answers (30 min). We calculated the scores before and after the group discussion and shared the results with the students. Scores were improved after the group discussion (mean ± SEM, 23.7 ± 0.9) compared with before (37.3 ± 1.3) (P < .0001). Lower scores after the group discussion, which indicated the effect of the group discussion on making better decisions, were observed most in the mixed medical/nursing student groups, followed by the nursing student and medical student groups. We noted only 3 groups in which the group discussion showed a negative effect on decision-making: all 3 of these groups were mixed (3 of 19 groups; 16%). These data demonstrated the power of group discussion for solving tasks when the participants' professional fields were mixed. However, the small size of the interdisciplinary groups might have resulted in less effective discussion, which might be due in part to psychological barriers arising from professional differences. Online group work is effective for facilitating discussion and building consensus about decisions in interprofessional education for medical and nursing students. Potential psychological barriers may exist in about 16% of mixed group students at the start, which should be kept in mind by instructors. Abbreviations: COVID-19: coronavirus disease 2019; IPE: Interprofessional Education; NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration; SD: standard deviation; WHO: World Health Organization.

Keywords: Interprofessional education; decision making; online group work; professional hierarchy; undergraduate medical education.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Education, Distance
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Studies*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Nursing / psychology*