Appraisal and revalidation support for medical professionals

Running small learning group sessions

The most important step on any journey is the first. If you have already got together in a learning group, that is already a significant achievement. If you haven’t, but you would like to, then take the plunge! Find a group to join. Or set one up.

Here are some tips, based on current educational evidence, for running excellent sessions.


If you are covering a topic consider brainstorming what you already know at the beginning of the session. This could be ten minutes with everyone volunteering information. It could be done in smaller groups. It could take the form of a quick quiz. The benefit of brainstorming is that it activates your prior knowledge. New knowledge – what you are about to learn – sticks better when it has prior knowledge to stick to. (1)

“Learning is not a spectator sport.” (2)

Look for ways to promote active learning. If one member of the group is giving a presentation, then the rest of the group will be in receiving mode. That is good, but try to break out of receiving mode from time to time. For example, do some Qs&As, discuss cases, or break into smaller groups. This adds variety to learning and involves everyone in the session: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”(Chinese Proverb).


Keep variety in your learning. Basing learning around a topic can obviously be helpful, but remember too that the learning group is an excellent forum for discussing significant events, interesting cases, complaints and compliments and any audits you may have done. Such discussions can form the basis for excellent appraisal reflection.


Try some simple evaluations at the end of sessions. (3) This doesn’t have to be the formal written kind. It could just be a chat about what went well and what could we do differently? Or try two stars and a wish – two things we did well in this session, one we could do better. This keeps us thinking about how we learn and brings fresh ideas to future meetings.


Use IT to your advantage. Discussion need not be limited to face-to-face meetings. Continuing your discussions through email or message boards brings convenience and flexibility. It also means you can ask for group wisdom in a time of need.




  1. Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, et al (2010) How does students’ prior knowledge affect their learning? In: Ambrose SA et al (Eds.) How Learning Works: seven research based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA.
  2. Chickering A and Gamson Z (1987) Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin. 39: 3-7
  3. Snell L, Tallett S, Haist S, et al (2000) A review of the evaluation of clinical teaching: new perspectives and challenges. Medical Education.34:862-70


All content © Bill Laughey 2015