Maximizing the Value of Online Group Studying

young woman having online study group webcam conversation

Whether you’re in high school, college or just taking some night classes to get away from your family, chances are you’re familiar with the concept of a study group. If you’re new to the idea and don’t know where to get started, don’t worry—with a few simple tools, you can be running your own session in no time.

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What are study groups and how do they work?

Study groups are small gatherings of students in the same class or who are learning the same subject matter; they get together to review material, help each other through trouble areas and come up with strategies to better learn information and concepts.

While group study itself isn’t new, the advent of remote learning and online courses has made group studying online a much more regular occurrence. If you’re new to the party, don’t panic. You won’t have to build a video studio or learn how to make friends or anything. You’ll just need to make sure you have access to a computer with a working camera and microphone. It would also be a good idea to play around with some presentation-making software. 

Benefits of joining a study group

If you’re not sure whether you want to join a study group, here are some reasons why you should seriously consider it.

  • Helping others learn helps you learn, too. Social scientists who observed students working together to learn material found that one of the main benefits of group studying comes from peer education. Students who help other students understand a topic have been found to actually gain greater proficiency in the material themselves. Study groups have also been linked to improved attitudes about the subject material and improved academic performance.
  • Several brains are better than one. Nobody knows the answers to all of the questions, but evidence suggests that simply working through the information together might make you more likely to correctly answer similar prompts in the future. That means that even if everyone is equally shaky on the material, trying to parse it together is still potentially beneficial.
  • Study groups create accountability. We’ve all skimped on studying and regretted it, but group studying offers motivation to get work done by virtue simply of other people’s expectations. By setting a regular deadline to have a set of information or a presentation ready for a larger group, you set yourself up to actually do the work.
  • A study group can be a useful helpline. Office hours are useful, but if you’re studying on your own schedule and feeling confused, having access to a group of study buddies can be a real lifesaver. The other members in your study group might understand concepts that you don’t grasp quite yet, and can explain them in a way that makes sense to you. 

How do you set up a virtual study group? 

The prospect of organizing a study session over the internet can be daunting if you’ve never done it before, but don’t worry: It’s very doable. Here are some tools you’ll likely need to get started.

  • The right chat platform. You’ll most likely want to choose a video platform like Zoom or Google Meet that allows you to record your study group sessions as well as collectively review slideshows and other documents from class.
  • A document hub. It’s often helpful to have a shared folder on a service like Google Drive where group members can share study aids and collaborate on materials like cheat sheets and explainers.
  • An accessible presentation creator. Especially for more visually-oriented subjects, a shared slide presentation can be a handy asset. Most students use Google Slides, but there are also services like Canva or Prezi, or consult your group to find out what they feel most comfortable using.
  • A detailed agenda. You want to make sure your sessions don’t become socializing time—Remember: you’re all there to help each other learn. As a result, you should consider generating an agenda for each session broken up by time and topic and coming up with a way to divide responsibilities, like scheduling and work management.
  • Create a record. Create a complete record of everything your group covered by recording your sessions and transcribing them. Descript makes it easy to record your screen and transcribe the audio contents of the recording, so you can refer back to it later. 

What makes for an effective study group?

Even if you have all of your tools in place, a worthwhile session relies on effective group study strategies and members who are there for the right reasons. Make sure you set yourself up for success.

  • Commitment: Group studying is most effective when each group member contributes their share of knowledge and energy to the whole. Try setting everyone up with a task to complete before the session so they can come prepared to share what they know.
  • Skill level: Try to assemble a group with roughly the same level of skills and knowledge on the topic you’re studying. If your group has one expert and a bunch of novices, the expert will end up doing the work and the novices will copy; the expert won’t learn anything and the novices will be embarrassed. Gathering students at equal levels will ensure work can be divided evenly, make everyone feel comfortable asking questions when they don’t understand, and minimize resentment among the group. 
  • Structure and size: Forming a study group is one thing, but running it is something else entirely. Even if your study group consists of you and a bunch of friends (which is fine!), you should make sure that it’s small enough to be manageable. Online meetings can grow out of hand fairly quickly, so try to start with a group no larger than five or six people to help make it manageable so that everyone benefits.
  • Time commitment: Even if you and your study partners are the most committed students in the world, the power of your collective studying skills and attention span only lasts so long. Effective study groups know when to call it a day and table material for the next session. Figuring out the best time and duration may be a matter of trial and error at the outset. Start out with sessions that max out at two hours, and try to make them at the same time every week for consistency.
  • Rotating responsibilities: No one wants to feel like they’re clocking into work when they log into a study session. By the same token, nobody wants to feel like the taskmaster all the time. The solution is to set up a system of rotating responsibilities where a different person leads the study session and/or delegates tasks for the group every week. When tasks are divided evenly, you can avoid resentment within the group and potential burnout from one over-achieving individual.

All you need now are some friends or classmates who are game for collaborative learning. Remember, just because you’re studying together doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun in your group sessions from time to time (but if you need ideas on how to do that, we can’t help you).

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