Small Group Learning


Key Points:

  • Optimal ratio is 1 facilitator to 6-10 learners
  • Is engaging and active
  • Enhances teamworking skills
  • May induce anxiety in some learners: used to being independent learners, lack of confidence in knowledge/opinions, fear of humiliation
  • May induce anxiety in some faculty: unfamiliarity with managing and guiding learning groups, increased faculty time to prepare and deliver compared with a lecture, being silent to let the students find answers themselves, responding to any question on the topic that might arise, making sure all of the required content is covered in the time allotted, handling students and groups that won't participate 
  • Faculty preparation: know your audience (names, photos if possible, level of familliarity with topic), identify the learning objectives, have the materials with tutor sheets for facillitators, arrange tables and chairs into clusters, establish roles and ground rules for participants 



  • Effectively convert a lecture into a small group learning exercise
  • Apply group learning theory to facilitate participation and learning of complex topics
  • Apply best practices to planning and execution of a small group learning exercise


Recommended Resources: 

Brief Review


Facilitation Skills: Best & Worst Facilitator Practices. Active Presence. 3 min.

Effective Small Group Differentiated Instruction. SmartAtMath. 6 minutes.

The Program for Integrated Learning (PIL) at Drexel University College of Medicine. Drexel Medicine. 10 minutes.

MUSM Problem Based Learning. Mercer University School of Medicine. 6 minutes.

Challenging behaviours in small group teaching. St. George's Hospital Medical School University of London. 2-3 minutes each.
Scenario 1: 
Scenario 2: 
Scenario 3: 
Scenario 4: 

4 Magic Phrases You Can Use to Respond to ANYTHING. Online Communication Skills Training Videos with Dan O'Connor. 5 minutes.

Facilitation Series Effective Training Techniques. Jamie Fisher. 5 min


Azer SA. Challenges facing PBL tutors: 12 tips for successful group facilitation. Med Teach. 2005 Dec;27(8):676-81. PubMed PMID: 16451886


Small Group Teaching. University of Saskatchewan. Six instructional videos with reflection questions.

Fishman L, Newman L. Dr. Novel and Dr. Sage: Developing Expertise in Leading Small Group Discussions. MedEdPORTAL Publications; 2014. Participants of this faculty development session work through the problem-based teaching case, and, by addressing common small group discussion dilemmas, learn the skills needed to facilitate an effective discussion.

Small Group Teaching. National Health Service. This module considers how small group teaching can be planned and structured and some of the techniques teachers can use to facilitate group and individual learning, including strategies for preventing difficult situations in groups.


In-Depth Review


Games as design language for teaching and learning: Willem Jan Renger at TEDxAmsterdamED 2013. 20 minutes.


The Christensen Center at Harvard Business School

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

Facilitating Group Learning: Strategies for Success with Adult Learners by George Lakey. 2010. 304 pages. $37.97

Team-Based Learning for Health Professions Education: A Guide to Using Small Groups for Improving Learning edited by Larry K. Michaelsen et al. 2007. 256 pages. $25.62


Premkumar K, D'Eon M, Bonnycastle D. Medical Teaching Resources for Faculty Developers. MedEdPORTAL Publications; 2013. 40 video vignettes depicting effective and not so effective teaching methods including Presentation Skills, Active Learning Strategies, Small Group Teaching, and Clinical Teaching.

Accountable Talk®: Conversation that Works. Coursera, University of Pittsburgh.

Engaging Students through Cooperative Learning. Coursera, Johns Hopkins University.