Forming an Online Study Group

Online learning is an excellent way to further your education. It can be done from anywhere: you can connect at any time you feel like connecting. You don’t have to schlep books across campus; you don’t have to put up with drafty lecture halls, or professors who turn up late. Just about the only thing you might miss out on is collaboration with other students. If you’re having trouble motivating yourself to work, or if your online degree requires you to assimilate a lot of information, consider forming an online study group with other students.

Working with a well-organized study group offers many benefits. You can compare notes with your study partners to ensure you’ve covered all aspects of your material. You can collaborate on projects, get help with drafts of papers, and discuss difficult material productively. Study groups can keep you accountable if you’re procrastinating—knowing that you’re going to talk about chapters 9-10 in your economics text on Monday will help motivate you to read it by Sunday. Finally, study groups offer you the chance to practice working in teams and networking, both of which are skills that can be profitable in your day job. And you may just make friends or valuable business contacts, too.

Here are some guidelines for forming an online study group.

1. Limit the group’s size.:

To ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute, and to keep logistical headaches to a minimum, try to restrict your group to no more than four or six people. Big virtual groups can be just as unwieldy as big site-based groups. It will be easier to coordinate schedules and conduct discussions with a smaller group.

2. Set an agenda and a schedule for every session:

One of the major pitfalls of study groups is that they can become chat sessions (even online) that don’t actually get around to becoming study sessions. Head this off at the pass by setting a specific start and end time for your group meetings, and follow an agenda with time limits.

For example, you might agree to ten minutes at the beginning of your meeting to recap the last session, followed by forty-five minutes to discuss a reading, giving everyone time to contribute thoughts. Finish up with ten minutes to plan the next agenda and discuss whether or not you thought the session was productive, and what to do next time.

3. Assign roles to study group members:

While you’re all equals as students, setting up roles within your group can save a lot of time and headaches. A group of four students might include a leader, a recorder, a moderator, and a spokesperson. The leader sets the agenda, the recorder saves chat transcripts and distributes meeting minutes, the moderator keeps the group on-topic, and the spokesperson approaches professors with questions from the group.

4. Find a comfortable online meeting place:

One of the problems with online learning is where you can “meet”. Many instant messenger programs (Google Chat, AOL Instant Messenger, etc.) will let small groups chat simultaneously, although this can be confusing. There are some web-conferencing tools, such as Skype, DimDim, and Yugma, that are free for groups of less than 10 people, and offer more than chat—video chat and desktop sharing are available in some cases. If you’re lucky, your online university will provide you with a “virtual campus”: dedicated web space to discuss your work in real-time with other students, as well as message boards to post files to. Make sure that all your group’s members are comfortable with whatever setting you choose for your virtual meetings.

This article is presented by AIU Online. See how convenient online learning can be at

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