While some college students enjoy working with their peers, others may occasionally struggle to retain civility with their classmates. Regardless, it’s important to help them discover the best ways to build a dynamic group study or work session. Share these tips with your students for building a synergistic, diverse learning experience.

Creating synergy

According to author J. Dan Rothwell in his book, In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups, 9th Edition:

“Groups often outperform individuals working alone, and sometimes they produce spectacularly superior results. This group genius is called synergy. Synergy occurs when group performance from joint action of members exceeds expectations based on perceived abilities and skills of individual members (Salazar, 1995). Thus, the whole is not necessarily equal to the sum of its parts. It may be greater than the sum of its individual parts.” (43)

Strong synergy is a vital component to successful peer-to-peer learning and group work.

When group members are highly motivated to achieve a common goal, such as grades, synergy is likely to occur. For example, if you’re studying for a test with a group, rather than assigning each member to summarize a chapter on their own, try working together to move through the material. Discuss with your group members what it is that you hope to achieve from working together and ensure that you’re all on a similar page.

Valuing diversity

If you have the opportunity to choose your group members, it also helps to build a diverse group. You’ll get more from your experience by working with peers with varied backgrounds and insights. Look for group members with diverse task-relevant skills, knowledge, abilities, beliefs, values, perspectives, and problem-solving strategies.

To build strong synergy, you need to have a wide variety of skills and abilities among your group. Rothwell goes on to explain, “In a simulation study comparing groups with deep diversity and those without, the groups with deep diversity were synergistic and outperformed even their best individual member. Groups without deep diversity performed much more poorly.” (47)

For more insight on working well with groups, visit our recent blog post, “Tips for Students: Seven Reasons to Value Group Work.”

Reference: Rothwell, J. Dan. 2016. In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups, 9th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What are some of the major benefits you see from students’ peer-to-peer collaboration? Share your ideas below.