By supplementing your individual study with work within a study group you can reinforce what you have learned, deepen your understanding of complex concepts, and even make some new friends. Whoever said learning could not be fun?
A study group is where people come together (either face-to-face or online) to work on a set of pre-determined topics. Study groups provide an informal setting for people to learn together, test ideas in a supportive environment, and reflect on their learning progress.
The Power of Study Groups
Just think back to the last time you explained something you had learned to a friend or a colleague. You may have noticed that when you did this you began to understand better yourself, simply because when you explain an idea then you need to think more deeply about it. This is the basic principle that makes study groups useful. Studying with your peers in a small group is helpful because you can:
- Support each other’s learning;
- Share different perspectives;
- Think out loud;
- Improve motivation and keep others motivated.
In an effective study group, you and your fellow students can examine and explore the course materials together — completing study activities, explaining concepts and constructively arguing about them. In this kind of active and engaged process you will find yourself learning more than you would have studying by yourself.
Study Group Basics
What is a good number for a study group? There is no perfect number but generally you will find that if working in an online setting then 4-6 is a good number, but if you meet face-to-face you can push this up to 6-8 members. Any larger number than this and there is the danger of the group sessions becoming too easily pushed off track. If in doubt – start small.
Who? Try and identify those who seem to share your interest in doing well academically. If you are taking a face-to-face class then check for people who stay alert, take notes, ask and respond to questions. It is a good idea to convene a test meeting to check that everyone feels able to work together. This is the perfect moment to talk aloud about the academic goals of the study group and identify those which are shared.
Where? If your study group meets online then think about what kinds of tools will work for you – more information on what is available is provided in this wiki. If you plan to meet face-to-face then hold your study group sessions in a place that is free of distractions and that has room to spread out equipment, books and notes.
How long? Meet for no more than two to three hours at a time. Having a time limit helps the group focus. If you know you only have an hour, you are much more likely to stay on task.
When? Try to meet regularly, on the same day and time each week. Treating the study session as you would other activities helps you to keep to a schedule and ensures that everyone attends. Make sure that all members of the group negotaite a good time and spacing for the sessions and treat this as an important and ongoing commitment to doing well in your studies.
Getting the best from your Study Group sessions
There are plenty of tips to help your group get the most out of each study session – here are ten to get you started:
- Choose a leader or facilitator for each session to make sure you stay on track;
- Decide what you’re going to do in advance;
- Prepare for the session, so you can make the most of your time together;
- Compare notes. Maybe you need to extend yours or maybe you can help someone else extend theirs;
- Take turns “teaching” each other, to reinforce your own knowledge;
- Question each other on the material assigned or via activities in the subject guides;
- Stick to the session topic;
- Take a few minutes at the end of the session to evaluate what you achieved. Did everyone put in their full effort? Did we concentrate on to much on one topic? How can we improve our efforts?
- Plan the next meeting. Give the group suitable assignments where appropriate.
- And finally. Remember that working together benefits all.