Study groups are a topic I find rather interesting. It’s a topic that I’ve covered a few times but I think it’s worth explaining a little differently. This question was a great opportunity.
I absolutely love study groups. I’ve read some articles on your old blog about how you shouldn’t really use study groups. I know you don’t directly say it but your “tips” make creating a “good” study group almost impossible. That makes me think you’d not support any study group in reality. What do you have against study groups? I’ve always found them to be a good way to get motivated to study.
I won’t argue that I’m not a big fan of study groups. My tips for creating a good study group are rather strict. (You can find a few similar ones here.) They’re strict because creating a good study group is unbelievably difficult. It’s hard to find a group of people that are appropriately related in skill level so that they all get an equal benefit from the group. Usually it ends up with one or two students benefiting from the study group while the rest of them are just spending their time less efficiently than they could have if they just studied alone.
The most powerful ways of learning can be utilized in a study group but most of the time, the least powerful ways are the strategies being utilized. A person that leads a study group (and works more like a teacher) benefits immensely from a study group. A person that is behind the rest of the students in a study group may benefit. The average student listening and participating only a small fraction of the time is not benefiting much from the group. They’re virtually a tool to help the other high participation students benefit. There is no way to balance this out well.
You may benefit immensely from a study group if you find yourself in one of the high participation positions but you must understand that everyone is not benefiting in the same way. I don’t recommend this because most people in a study group end up on the losing end of that study group.
The thing I have against study groups is that they’re inefficient compared to a shorter, silent, and single-person session. A groups time will always be split between a number of different students. An individual’s time can always be dedicated to that individual’s learning needs when they’re alone.
Sure, I wouldn’t stop a person from going into a study group if studying wasn’t their top priority. Study groups can be good for making like-minded friends, growing friendships, and having fun. (I’d argue there are better ways but that’s just my opinion.)
Study groups are mostly just a distraction when it comes to trying to learn something. The more time you spend using inefficient ways to learn something, the more you think you’re learning something, and the less you actually are learning something.
So, consider a study group but make sure you have the right set of goals in mind beforehand. (And if you’re going to try to study in a study group, try to take up a teacher-style role. That’s generally the most certain way to benefit immensely.)
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