The University of Vienna’s blog articles on remote learning often recommend working together in (study) groups. In this article, we share tips on how to make the most of working in groups.
The social interaction with your fellow students can not only help you cope with the current situation but also improve your learning performance: Working in groups allows you to identify gaps in your knowledge and increase your motivation (e.g. by arranging times of joint study, testing each other or carrying out mock exams).
Tip 1: How do I find a (study) group?
Working in a study group has the advantage that you can choose your own study partners (unlike in many group assignments in university courses). There are different options for finding motivated study partners:
- For example, you can use the features of the corresponding Moodle course. Many Moodle courses offer a discussion forum for students. You can post that you are looking for study partners or a study group in this forum.
- Some degree programmes also have their own online forums, which are offered by the students’ representatives.
- If your degree programme offers no such forum or if you are not looking for a (study) group for a specific course, you could also use social media platforms to find study partners. You can find groups dedicated to (almost) all degree programmes on social media.
Before starting a study group, make sure that the potential group members share similar goals and expectations. Members of the study group having different expectations about working together might cause problems later on.
When looking for study partners, consider that the ideal size of a study group is 4-5 people. There is a higher potential for conflict if the group is too large, and it could also slow down your study progress.
Tip 2: Schedule fixed appointments
We recommend scheduling fixed appointments immediately before or during your first meeting and noting them in your planner. Treat these appointments like any other (professional) obligation: Take them seriously and show up on time. Missing appointments can sour the mood and reduce motivation for the entire group.
In general, structuring your group meetings can also be beneficial.
Tip 3: Look through the study materials in advance
Every member of the study group should independently look through and familiarise themselves with the study materials first. This provides a solid basis for successful group work and enables productive teamwork from which all members of the group can benefit.
Tip 4: Use the individual strengths of all group members
When working on more time-intensive tasks or when dealing with materials covering larger subject areas, it makes sense to assign individual tasks/contents to different members of the group. When doing so, take the strengths of the individual group members into account. For example, some people find it easy to summarise complex contents in writing. Others are experts at creating awesome mind maps or mock exams. You should also consider the personal interests of the individual group members. Not everybody is interested in every task or subject area to the same extent. If you are interested in a topic or subject area, it is much easier to work through it.
Tip 5: Everyone’s opinion counts
The results from the individual tasks as well as all open questions should be discussed together within the group. It is essential that every group member feels like their opinion is valued and that everyone’s opinion counts. Every person can offer a different perspective on a subject. After all, everybody has to be content with the “final product” (e.g. a group presentation, a paper or the exam result) in the end. This can only be the case if everybody has contributed.
Tip 6: Learn to give and receive feedback
Learning is not possible without feedback, as communication forms the basis for acquiring knowledge. Therefore, feedback is an essential component of successfully working in (study) groups. For this reason, we recommend scheduling regular feedback sessions in your group meetings. It is crucial that you express feedback in a factual, respectful, honest, specific and interested manner. Bear in mind that you are offering criticism about a text, a task or a statement, not about a person. In addition, make sure to also provide positive feedback in addition to criticism. If you feel that the criticism you received is not justified, ask the person providing the feedback to explain it further. This could also result in a productive group discussion.