Tips for Starting a Successful Online Study Group

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How to start an online study group at UBC

When you practice and teach others course material, it is easier to remember the information and recall it at a later time.

You’ve likely heard that study groups are a good idea, but why? Do you know what will help them to be productive and not just another outlet of your precious minutes?There are a few keys to making study groups productive and efficient, even if you’re tackling your subjects virtually.

The Learning Pyramid

It starts with something called the learning pyramid, which offers a rough idea of how much info you retain using different methods.

  • With lecture alone, you retain the least
  • Demonstration still has you retaining less than half the material
  • Practice and teaching others helps you retain the most knowledge, and be able to apply it to tests, assignments, and group discussions

Did you also know that students who spend time on course material throughout the whole term are more likely to do better in future courses? Why?

  • There’s more time to process the info and commit it to long-term memory
  • Courses continue to build on this foundation of knowledge
  • The more you know now, the less you have the review in the future when adding new info
  • Students who study 2-3 weeks right before final exams are more likely to forget what they’ve learned after the exam

UBC Science students have told us that having more study groups is the number one thing they felt would help them do better in their courses. While you can’t hunker down in Woodward with a few classmates and whiz through course material this year, online learning doesn’t have to make study groups obsolete. Here’s how you can make the most out of study time while taking advantage of the online platforms you’re already used to.


Steps to Establish a Shiny New Online Study Group

Point them to the pyramid if it helps them to understand how this might be helpful. An effective study group is 3 - 4 members (no more than 5).

Ask your instructor if it would be possible for them to send out an email to connect interested students or make connections during break out discussions on Zoom. You can also send a direct message to any classmate you think might be interested!

Amongst the group, choose which app or platform works best for everyone, whether it be Discord, Teams, Facebook, or anything else convenient for you. Set up your first call and make sure to turn your video on – you’ll want to meet everyone face to face! Pro Tip: All UBC students have free access to Microsoft Teams – it’s a great tool to chat and have video calls with any group.
Creating an agenda for your first meeting might be helpful to keep things on track. A few questions the group can consider include:
  • Their goals for being part of a study group
  • Their motivation for being in a study group
  • Their learning style and how they are finding online learning so far, and how they think a study group can help
Get everyone to write down:
  • How many meet-ups they would like to have during the term (e.g. 1/week, 2/week)
  • Meet-up times that would work for their schedule (e.g. Thursdays 12 – 1 pm, Wednesdays, 7 – 8 pm) and how long you’d like to meet. – Pro tip: Doodle can be helpful for finding a time that works with everyone’s busy schedules!
  • How they’d like to communicate with this group (e.g. Facebook message, Microsoft Teams, text, email, Discord) outside of meet-up times

As a group, review your answers and decide on final answers for each prompt.

There are a few more steps to ensure that you’re all on the same page… Yes, it might feel awkward, but talk about:
  • How meet-ups will be arranged (e.g. is someone in charge of scheduling them?)
  • Making a serious commitment to each other show up and do the required preparation in advance
  • Discuss what should happen if someone is not meeting this expectation. For example, if someone is not completing their tasks in advance, the first time it happens, the group will remind that person of the commitment to the group. If it happens a second time, the person will no longer be a member of the study group.
  • Determine a system to divide the 2 – 3 lectures/week among the group members. Each subgroup (or lecture summarizers) then summarizes key concepts and creates a one page summary in advance of the study group meet-up.

When Actually Hosting the Study Group...

When the study group meets up, the lecture summarizers (see step 5 above) can teach/present the concepts to the group and facilitate a review/discussion to help everyone to understand the material.
If there are problem sets to review, have members work through them individually either in the meet-up or on their own time afterwards; bring back questions or areas members are getting stuck for discussion at the next meet-up.
Make sure that there are opportunities for everyone to speak and ask questions at each meet-up. If there are a mix of folks who are louder and quieter, ensure that your meeting structure includes a time for the group to check in with each individual and ask if they have any thoughts/questions.
Online learning isn’t natural for everyone, and some students find it more difficult than traditional classes. On top of that, the global COVID-19 pandemic may cause extra stress, fatigue, or anxiety. Try a regular pulse check with your group to see if anyone needs additional support and then help each other check out available resources online .
Always remember there is a person behind the words you read on screen. Use people’s preferred names (being mindful of spelling and pronunciation), try not to assume what pronouns they use, communicate politely, and talk over video when you can. Seeing faces goes a long way toward keeping everyone engaged and connected.

Now that you’ve got a great start to your study group, it’s time to start acing those quizzes!

Partially adapted from National Training Laboratories. Bethel, Maine & www.keeplearning.ubc.ca