Introduction Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5


Learning to Learn

Study Groups
Putting fun into study
"The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." -- Harold Wilson

Welcome to the final part of learning. What you should have now is a working model of how to do this thing called "study" which is based on accomplishing "tasks" rather than occupying "time" and which allows you to deal with each task in a logical way and at an appropriate time. This isn't meant to be easy, I never promised it would be. It requires work but what I hope you have discovered is that by becoming task-oriented, this work has meaning and it produces results which you can measure by continually applying the mum-test.

There is a refinement to this model which I would like to address which will help you take your learning one further step. Working in isolation is fine, as far as it goes, but it can only take you so far. This is Ok because it will take you a long way but not as quickly or quite as far as working in groups can achieve. I know this sounds a bit naff but organising yourself into a study group with 3-4 like-minded friends can be a real asset.


What groups can achieve
Study groups can achieve a lot. Use them to:

1. Talk through topics
2. Divide up work
3. Make work fun
4. Practice

Let's take each in turn.

Talk through topics
Try to get into the habit of talking about your subject or at least about the stuff you are trying to learn. This way you familiarise yourself with information and complicated terms and remember it more easily than simply reading and rereading the written word.

By talking through the information you learn to use it in the correct context and in a way which is grammatically correct. Examiners reading written answers get a great deal of information about the competence of a student from the way in which terms are used or, more importantly, misused. Incorrect use of a word tells an examiner far more about your lack of ability than you might think, or hope. We have a collection of misuses called "Exam Howlers" and some of it is very funny.

So talking about stuff within a study group familiarises you with information and aids memory.

Divvy up the work
The shear volume of work expected in some course can be intimidating. Once you have produced your task-lists try dividing up the work among the members of the group then meet at an agreed time later in the same day or the next day and exchange information.

By exchanging the information I mean do it by talking. See my point above. Exchanging information is the best means to start the process. Next thing you know you'll be explaining the information as well. It's a good job you have applied the mum-test otherwise you wouldn't be able to do this.

Make work fun
Working on your own can be tough. In fact it can be downright soul-destroying especially if you're finding the going hard. Working in groups can be fun so make sure that it is by using study-group meetings as social events but avoid alcohol until the work's done. If you think a meal drops your concentration level you should see what even a single glass of wine or half a beer can do to it.

Set clear "targets" for each meeting. You can do this by having an agenda.

1. Anna .......... Anatomy of the masseter
2. Jeff ............ Muscle spindles
3. Zahida ........ Essential anatomy of the TMJ
4. Baaba ......... The jaw unloading reflex

During the discussion, previously unknown connections between different elements of the subject will become quite apparent. When these connections are made pieces of a large and unfathomable jigsaw can fall into place. Realisation can suddenly dawn and difficult topics can become so obvious you will wonder why you had such trouble in the first place.

Setting an agenda is very important because if you do not have a clear idea of what you are going to do in your group you will end up wasting your time and just fooling around or chatting.

Don't make the meetings too long or they can become a burden. An hour is plenty long enough but meet frequently, at least twice a week and do it regularly. When the work's done then do something that's sociable, fun and relaxing. You choose.

Practice your explanations
If you are not sure about the strength of your explanation after applying the mum-test try it out on the group. Ask for comments and help. In other words, use the group for "peer review". This final point brings us to the concept of the "Learning Cycle".

Learning is not simply a matter of staring at some stuff until you are so comfortable with it you could bore the hind leg off a donkey. Learning is all about progress. You will never reach the point where you know too much because the more you know about a topic the more you realise how much you do not know about it. Do not get disheartened by this, it's just a fact of life. Instead, embrace it and recognise that by practicing what you know, using a peer group to review your knowledge then reassessing your position you are in a position to improve your knowledge and understanding. You could think of this process as a kind of "Learning Cycle" such as the one shown here.

In fact this cycle is not a particularly good model because it doesn't incorporate any sense of progress. A better model is shown here where after learning a topic and revisiting it at a later date your depth of knowledge and understanding has improved beyond your original starting point. Nevertheless this new understanding represents a new starting point in your quest for even deeper understanding. This can be achieved by incorporating more data (facts) or reordering or making different connections between them to alter this thing we call information. This refines the information into something more valuable and useful and allows you to progress.

Study groups are useful but they can be hard to set up and use effectively. This should not be used as an excuse not to try because their value is inestimable. However, do not think that you can not learn without them. Apply the test, do the studying and reevaluate yourself. If you have problems then you could always ask a tutor after all that's what they are there for.

And that's it.



Study groups are an efficient way of studying.


Study goups enable you to talk through a difficult topic.


Study groups can be used to divide up the work.


Study groups can be entertaining.


Study groups can be used to rehearse explanations and receive constructive criticism.