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The Benefits of Learning in Small Groups

Online Tutoring & Learning 

An increase in assistive technology and in turn, online learning has made tutoring much more accessible and affordable for many families (6). These online lessons are often delivered one on one, however, a more modern style of online learning is becoming popular. This consists of having small groups of students with similar learning needs participate in tutoring sessions together. 

The Advantages of Group Work 

Learning within small groups offers students a multitude of benefits both face-to-face and online. Multiple studies have found that there is often a significant increase in the quality and quantity of an individual’s work when they can hear and see others working too (1). Productiveness, cooperation and motivation levels are proven to be higher within a group and the most remarkable thing is that students will often end up learning more than they ever would have alone (5). Working in groups is smart!

Even though small group learning programs are frequently used in schools and universities, at times, families can feel apprehensive towards group tutoring programs. However, the benefits can be just as great if not more so than one on one sessions.

Group Tutoring

Team Work and Turn-Taking

When students are provided with the opportunity to interact with each other under the guidance of a quality tutor, students receive ongoing feedback from multiple sources on their actions and build on socially acceptable behaviours like cooperation and working together (1). Learning to be a part of a team and take turns in a social setting is a key component to being successful in adult life. 

Sharing of Prior Knowledge and Quality Discussions

Activating prior knowledge is about evoking what students know about certain topics and building upon that knowledge to help them engage with and learn new content (2). Individually students all bring differing levels of knowledge and perspectives depending on their previous experiences (2). In a group, students can share this knowledge and each brings their skills and ideas to the discussion. When structured correctly one question leads to another and the learning experience becomes richer and deeper (2). 

Group Tutoring - Prior knowledge individually
Group Tutoring - Prior knowledge as a group

Higher Engagement and Presentation Skills

Quality learning requires students to become engaged in the task (4). Some students can lack motivation or are sometimes reluctant to participate in tutoring outside of school. Group sessions offer students the chance to collaborate in a fun and interactive way, listen to the ideas of their peers and learn from the questions of others (4). Learning in a social environment increases engagement and helps develop presentation and public speaking skills in a small and supportive setting (4). 

Confidence and Independence

In a one on one session, students are often being guided or supported every step of the way. Alternatively, in small group sessions, students are either working together or working on a task more independently while the tutor supports the group as a whole. This promotes a sense of pride and confidence in students as they complete tasks along side their peers and can present or show their knowledge in front of the group (3). 

The Wrap Up 

Small group tutoring through Zoom and other similar online platforms is still a relatively new style of learning. However, the evidence on group learning speaks for itself. When groups are provided with high-quality guidance, resources, and support, the benefits of learning in social settings can be very advantageous (3). Online learning in a group setting cuts travel time, increases engagement, promotes the development of social skills and activates the prior knowledge. Ultimately, this creates the opportunity for a high-quality learning experience for all involved.

Brydie Tancred
Written by Brydie Tancred  
Bachelor of Education (K-6 Teaching). Master of Education (Special and Inclusive Education) In Progress. 
Jessica Robinson
Edited by Jessica Robinson 
Bachelor of International Studies. Master of Occupational Therapy.


(1) Gillies, R. M., & Ashman, A. F. (2003). An historical review of the use of groups to promote socialization and learning. Routledge Falmer: London & New York.

(2) Reder, L. M., Liu, X. L., & Popov, V. (2016). Building knowledge requires bricks, not sand: The critical role of familiar constituents in learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(1), 271-277.

(3) Coers, N., Williams, J., & Duncan, D. (2010) Impact of group development knowledge on students’ perceived importance and confidence of group work skills. Journal of leadership education, 9(2), 101-121.

(4) Williams, S. (2011) Engaging and informing students through group work. Psychology Teaching Review, 17(1), 24-34.

(5) Frey, N., Fisher, D., & Everlove, S. (2009). Productive groupwork: How to engage students, build teamwork, and promote understanding. ASCD: Alexandria.

(6) Martin, F., Sun, T., & Wastine. C. (2020) A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Journal of Computer Education, 159(1), 1-17.