Learning networks, groups or communities are seen as having the potential to provide supportive, integrative and deep learning processes which can enhance student performance and support transition to university (Peat, Dalziel and Grant 2001; Zhao and Kuh 2004). The provision of a learning environment with opportunities for meaningful academic and social interactions is characteristic of higher education and collaborative learning strategies are frequently used to encourage student selfmanagement, independence and the general development of group skills. Whilst the value-added potential of learning groups is well documented (Peat et al. 2001; Zhao and Kuh 2004; Lizzio and Wilson, 2006), the nature of the course subject is rarely considered as potentially significant to the effectiveness of the group process; the emphasis in research studies being more frequently concerned with generic academic or pastoral\ud functions. The Early Childhood degree at the University of Worcester established learning groups in 2002 as a specific learning and teaching strategy aligning the pedagogic and andragogic philosophy of the subject to promote academic and\ud professional characteristics required as transferable skills for work in the sector. The social constructivist philosophy underpinning the subject and practice of early childhood provided the common, connecting thread for learning groups to have relevance and meaning for personal, academic and professional development. \ud This study investigated the experience and perceived value of learning groups for the first cohort in 2002/3 through a questionnaire, and by interviews focussed more openly\ud on their general first year experience with a sample group of year 1 students in 2008.\ud The findings revealed an overall highly positive perception indicating that learning\ud groups had scope and value as a forum for:-\ud • Building strong relationships and social identity\ud • Co-construction of a learning culture\ud • Reciprocal learning and skill development\ud • Empowerment of adult learners and development of confidence\ud • Enhancing professional development\ud The most useful transferable skills and knowledge gained during the first year came from sharing ideas and relationship building in small group work which gave the students confidence. The findings demonstrate that peer learning groups provide mutual support and learning opportunities which develop skill in working with others which, in turn, students regard as the predominant quality required for their future professional lives
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