I have over the last 20 years tried to improve my skills in handling negative emotions in group work. Frustration and irritations are common and probably unavoidable. Conflicts occur, mainly as a result of not handling frustration and irritation.

Åsa Nilsonne held a keynote lecture at the higher education pedagogic conference NU2018 about emotions in education. She started with a question she found on the back of a chair in a lecture hall.

“When is something fun going to happen on this education?” written by some resigned student. Another student hade the answer to that and had written under “Never”. In Nilsonnes lecture a lot of neurobiological arguments was given for taking emotions into consideration in education. (A video of the lecture, in Swedish, is also available)

In the framework of Community of Inquiry, it is now also stressed the importance of considering the emotional presence. It should be recognized and is important for learning. Both positive and negative emotions have impact on learning.

The idea of threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2003) has as one of the characteristics that these concepts are troublesome, involving a lot of emotions. As far as I can tell, these three line of thought have independent origins. I might have miss it, but I don’t find any overlapping references between these three examples of pointing to the importance of considering emotions. The thoughts converge.

The basis of the Community of Inquiry framework is the social, cognitive and teaching presences. This in order to achieve a good learning experience. As I understand the concept the focus for these presences is the learner, which has to be present both socially, cognitively and in teaching.

In the literature on problem based learning there have been a lot of studies conducted on the characteristics of a good facilitator in the small group. The primary question has been if a tutor should be subject matter expert or skilled in facilitating group processes. In this line of thinking there have been numerous studies conducted, with very diverging result. Starting in the mid 1990’ies (Smith and Moust, 1995) a suggestion was made to divide the characteristics into three area, social congruence, cognitive congruence and expertise. The conclusion that can be made from this research is that the ideal situation is when the tutor have a high level on all three and that subject matter expertise alone is not enough for the students to learn.

If I have understood this correctly the CoI take a learner perspective and the PBL-literature take a tutor perspective. Still it seems like the thoughts are converging to a general conclusion that social, emotional, cognitive and subject matter are all important for a fruitful learning experience.


Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practising, In: Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student Learning – Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 412-424.

Schmidt H G & Moust J H C (1995) What makes a tutor effective? A structural-equations modeling approach to learning in problem-based curricula. Academic Medicine 70, 708±14.

Thoughts converging