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LostInParadise's avatar

How effective are study groups?

Asked by LostInParadise (27918points) March 2nd, 2015

Have you ever been part of a study group? What was it like?

You rarely hear much about study groups. There are frequent stories of people who master certain skills by practicing on their own or perhaps under the guidance of an instructor.

I don’t think there is a substitute for self-study, but it seems to me that being part of a study group could make things easier. There is a social aspect to it and proper use of friendly competition may spur people’s efforts. Additionally, if someone is stuck in learning something, others in the group may provide assistance. Those providing the assistance benefit by reviewing what they have learned.

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17 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

My first husband was part of a study group when he was at Harvard Business School. It met regularly and was very helpful to all. From time to time it degenerated into pizza and raucous games of Hearts with the wives. Students in those days were only men and most were married.

Harvard used the case study method for many of its courses unlike most other B schools; the study group was a useful adjunct to this.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I was glad to discuss subject-specific problems with others who had studied different sources which we hadn’t time to cover if we studied independently. We divided up the work, reported to the group what each found, discussed it, compared it to other findings, and incorporated it into our work. We covered a lot of material from a variety of sources which we wouldn’t have been able to do if studying alone. It was very helpful. And there was a bonding aspect as well.

Why Study Groups are Effective – Washington University

Study Group Formulation and Suggested Procedures.pdf

Using Study Groups Effectively

osoraro's avatar

I don’t know the data, but when I was in school, I never really found them to be effective.

dxs's avatar

Some like them while others prefer to be alone, but a really good thing about working together is the exchange of ideas/interpretations. Overall I prefer studying alone but I’ve been in study groups that have been very helpful.

osoraro's avatar

The risk I had in study groups is that they always degenerated into just conversation, as they were usually accompanied by lots of caffeine. I think that if they’re really well organized they could be good.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

It depends on the group and how they’re structured and organised. I know of some groups that have lasted for years and have been really helpful to the participants. A friend of mine was telling me about a group of postgrads who peer reviewed each other’s work. Theyr’e still doing this years later because they find the process so helpful. Another group of online students I know worked together throughout their whole degrees. They brainstormed, shared readings they’d found, gave advice on different courses and their experiences. Others, as @osoraro suggests, descend into chatfests and achieve little.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I had only one course in which a study group truly helped – and it was essential to succeeding in the course. We were a small class, starting out with perhaps twenty students. Half dropped within the first month; the rest of us quickly realized that we would have to pool our resources in order to figure out the assignments. It was intense. We requested private access to a lab in the department for the purpose.

That was an upper-level undergraduate course. Previously, I had tried a couple of study groups when I first started undergrad, but always found it “degenerated into just conversation” as @osoraro described, so it wasn’t useful to me. I generally prefer to work alone.

Mimishu1995's avatar

It depends on who I work with. Sometimes I find some really helpful people who truly want the best results and cooperate with them nicely. Sometimes there are people who just want others to work for them and get all the results, or take all the “noticeable” work to get all the spotlights.

Differences in opinion can easily separate members. Some people are just overprotective over their opinion. Not to mention other factors like clash in personality… Things can quickly change to a who-is-right war instead of the process of learning itself.

So, I’m better off learning alone.

longgone's avatar

I haven’t found them helpful yet. This is for two reasons:

1. Often, the majority of participants are not interested in studying. If that’s the case, I have two options…I can take responsibility for getting the group back on track, or accept the fact that I will now chit-chat with virtual strangers. Neither of these options appeal to me.

2. My style of studying is unusual. I love to memorize. I’m able to retain huge amounts of information for a couple of days, which has helped me numerous times. Because of this, I don’t need as much studying time as most of my peers seemed to need. I do, however, need absolute concentration. I also like to be singing songs while, ideally, moving at the same time. A group of less crazy learners holds me back.

LostInParadise's avatar

Thanks all. The overall impression is that study groups can be very useful, but there is a danger of them descending into chat sessions. I wonder if there are steps that can be taken to prevent that.

@longgone, I knew someone in high school who studied for history tests by turning the information into songs.

JLeslie's avatar

Study groups were extremely productive for me. It helped tremendously considering my preference towards teamwork, not working alone, and not studying at all.

longgone's avatar

@LostInParadise Yep, that’s what I’m talking about! My renditions of contract law to the tune of childhood TV series are divine.

Mariah's avatar

I have been a tutor at my college for three years now and my tutoring sessions are unique in the sense that they are not one-on-one; any students are allowed to walk in during the hour and get help from me. Particularly large sessions usually turn into study groups because it is challenging for me to circulate around the room and tutor all the students individually in the allotted time.

I find that it usually is very helpful to students, especially with me there as an “expert” to help facilitate. I group students who are working on similar problems together and have them try to work through it in their small groups. If I hear a group struggling I come in to help. But usually there is at least one person in each group who understands what to do for each step of the problem, and they use their shared knowledge to get through the material.

My experiences are limited to calculus and differential equations study sessions, however. I’m sure other subjects are very different.

Mariah's avatar

I should add that I’ve also seen (and participated in) really ineffective study groups when nobody in the group actually does understand what’s going on. We just spin our wheels, the blind leading the blind.

I think the program that I tutor for at my school is awesome because the presence of just one person who knows what’s going on is the only fuel that a study group, no matter how large, needs to become successful. One person can really help many others very successfully in this way.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Mariah , That sounds like a very good format for a study group. I wonder if it is used elsewhere. By intervening only when necessary, you get to make the best use of your time.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Mariah The trouble is, when I think of a “study group”, it’s a group of peers, not a group led by an expert of some kind. As a tutor, I am guessing you get paid – there’s less motivation for that “one person who knows what’s going on” to join a study group because the dynamic can lead to them being taken advantage of, as @Mimishu1995 described.

Mariah's avatar

Yeah. It isn’t the classic study group format. I find it works much better than the “blind leading the blind” situation that I also described.

There isn’t necessarily one person who knows everything (in which case yes, why are they even there) but in a large enough group usually someone knows each step (maybe a different person for step 1 than step 2). The pooled knowledge often combines to allow them to solve the problem completely.

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