Medical students study in social groups, which influence their learning, but few studies have investigated the characteristics of study groups and the impacts they have on students’ learning. A scoping review was conducted on the topic of informal social studying and learning within medical education with the aim of appraising what is known regarding medical student attitudes to group study, the impact of group study on participants, and the methods that have been employed to study this.
Using Arksey and O’Malley’s scoping review principles, MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL were searched, along with hand-searching and a targeted search of the grey literature; 18 peer reviewed and 17 grey literature records were included.
Thematic conceptual analysis identified a number of themes, including: the nature of group study; the utility and value of group studying including social learning facilitating student engagement, social learning as a source of motivation and accountability, and social learning as a source of wellbeing; and student preferences related to group studying, including its homophilic nature, transgressiveness, and effectiveness. Despite these emerging factors, the evidence base for this phenomenon is small.
The findings in this scoping review demonstrate a clear role for social interaction outside of the classroom, and encourage us to consider the factors in student networking, and the implications of this on medical students’ academics. We also highlight areas in need of future research to allow us to better situate informal social learning within medical education and to enable educators to support this phenomenon.