Ask the Experts

Group Therapy

I was invited to join a study group. I think more time will be spent gossiping than studying. Are there any real benefits to a study group?

Your basic yes or no question leads to awareness of an entirely new approach to learning, social learning theory. It is now entering our educational system and going to have a large impact on the future.

Social learning theory is the combination of learning and social behavior proposing that new behaviors can be acquired or learned by observing and imitating others. Learning, which is a cognitive process, takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction.

Learning from books and well-rounded lessons are well established and effective teaching methods, but educators are now looking for ways to develop students’ interpersonal skills. By getting students to work together, they can build off each other’s strengths and improve weaknesses. This has quickly been embraced in allied health programs, where nursing students learn to cooperate when learning patient care in a hospital environment.

Motivation is contagious, higher-performing students tend to gather into groups to prepare for tests, discuss projects and ask and answer questions. Participation in study groups has been cited as a good signal of excelling in class.

Social learning in a school environment lessens the risk of bullying and disruptive behavior. It can encourage self-awareness and empathy, both of which improve general mental health and ultimately success in the classroom. There is a wider array of ideas and insights in a study group situation, than you would get in a regular class, that can nurture creativity, empathy and critical thinking skills. The ability to understand and explore problems from different perspectives and take on alternative viewpoints is all conducive to better academic performance and productivity.

Teachers can use social learning to close the achievement gap and assist underperformers. It fosters increased interest in the subject material which usually leads to higher grades. Online social settings and courses attract students who actually want to learn and want to be there, so there are no distractions from apathetic students who can bring the rest of the class down.

Social learning is already a corporate tool at training centers. At the NADA University, where future auto salespeople learn the industry, a Honda dealer for example can send its trainees. The center has extensive real-world, interactive exercises to develop skills, with students training as a team effort.

The future of learning will be more social and there are already countless apps designed to add an element of fun and social interaction to the learning process. The ‘gamification’ of e-learning is a huge industry which is estimated to be worth in excess of $3 billion this year.

Micro-learning is another aspect of the social environment where educational material is broken down into smaller blocks to aid learning in today’s fast-paced lifestyles. There will be more open-source, online courses or MOOCs (massive open online courses) which encourage students to interact with each other in online forums and discussion boards as part of their learning experience.

Social learning tools and platforms are likely to become more sophisticated with more customizable education solutions for specific departments and industries. The Learning Management System industry is also expanding to provide more options for companies looking to improve their training processes.

Mobile learning will dominate as more training and learning solutions are rolled out to be accessed from anywhere in the world. Study groups are just one example of social learning which is changing the way we assimilate information and is firmly here to stay.

You can drag my body to school but my spirit refuses to go… Bill Watterson.

John Regan is a former Director of Sales for equity research.