Social Learning: Studying Alone vs. Study Groups

Modified on by Kaitlin Goodrich

Studying Alone vs. Study Groups

One debate question for students that never seems to go away is “Should I study alone or in a group?”

Social learning has become more and more popular in today’s teamwork-focused environment, and for good reason. Group study sessions encourage an exchange of ideas. With a group, someone inevitably understands the work best, so they can teach the others tricks and tips to push them forward. At the same time, leaders better cement their own knowledge by teaching others. Groups boost your motivation as you study harder out of fear of holding the group back. For competitive people, groups even motivate members to beat each others’ knowledge.

It can be tempting to see these benefits and focus solely on group study, but it is important for all students not to neglect solitary study either.

Don’t Neglect Solitary Study

Focusing on Personalized Learning

When we study on our own, we can focus on our own weaknesses and hone only the skills that are lacking. According to psychologist Anders Ericsson who did extensive research on expert performance, the best way to master any subject is to work on the task that’s most demanding for you personally. Research indicates that this is best done alone.

Remebember that no two people have the exact same weaknesses, so even if your group focuses on a topic that does not come easily, you may be going about these studies in a way that does not address your exact problem with the section, as you would studying alone. You can internalize important information much more easily using flashcards that stimulate the brain through spaced repetition than you would simply by moving onto a new subject when the majority of the group feels secure.

Studying Alone for Maximum Focus

Furthermore, we get distracted more easily in a group. Privacy increases focus, even if we may feel like we get more done in a group. On our own, we are always aware when we get off topic or when our mind drifts. As a member of a group, we sometimes feel as though we are working, when we are really off topic. After all, who among us hasn’t watched a group conversation slowly evolve away from the intended topic? By the time we realize that we are not working, we have wasted more time. Plus, we didn’t shut down our brains, so we don’t get the benefits of a break like when we are distracted alone.

Efficiency in group study falls by the wayside. In fact, organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham has constantly come out against group work when efficiency is a priority, because for all its benefits, group studying hampers creativity and efficiency. When a big test is looming near, efficiency should be a serious priority that goes unfulfilled when you only study with friends or classmates.

Personalized Learning at Your Own Speed

Finally, individual studying allows us to go at our own pace, thereby ensuring that our brains are fully engaged. Some people in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work, while they try to follow along at a pace that is either too fast for them to keep up or so slow that they lose interest. In groups, we instinctively mimic others’ opinions and tend towards group opinions. At the same time, we lose track of our own questions and difficulties. We succumb to peer pressure, because we do not want to draw attention to our divergence from the group, losing important opportunities for learning as we study.

While we hope that you will take time for individual study, don’t run out and break up your study groups just yet. Both studying alone and in a group stimulate our brains in important, separate ways.

[See Also: How to Study in a Group]

The key is balance. Make sure to get enough time in group studies, but don’t forget to set aside time to study on your own as well. Which do you prefer, group study or studying alone? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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