Medical Students Perceive Better Group Learning Processes when Large Classes Are Made to Seem Small

Juliette Hommes, Onhyebuchi Arah, Willem de Grave, Lambertus Schuwirth, Albert Scherpbier, Gerard Bos

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: Medical schools struggle with large classes, which might interfere with the effectiveness of learning within small groups due to students being unfamiliar to fellow students. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of making a large class seem small on the students' collaborative learning processes. Design: A randomised controlled intervention study was undertaken to make a large class seem small, without the need to reduce the number of students enrolling in the medical programme. The class was divided into subsets: Two small subsets (n = 50) as the intervention groups; a control group (n = 102) was mixed with the remaining students (the non-randomised group n,100) to create one large subset. Setting: The undergraduate curriculum of the Maastricht Medical School, applying the Problem-Based Learning principles. In this learning context, students learn mainly in tutorial groups, composed randomly from a large class every 6-10 weeks. Intervention: The formal group learning activities were organised within the subsets. Students from the intervention groups met frequently within the formal groups, in contrast to the students from the large subset who hardly enrolled with the same students in formal activities. Main Outcome Measures: Three outcome measures assessed students' group learning processes over time: learning within formally organised small groups, learning with other students in the informal context and perceptions of the intervention. Results: Formal group learning processes were perceived more positive in the intervention groups from the second study year on, with a mean increase of β = 0.48. Informal group learning activities occurred almost exclusively within the subsets as defined by the intervention from the first week involved in the medical curriculum (E-I indexes.20.69). Interviews tapped mainly positive effects and negligible negative side effects of the intervention. Conclusion: Better group learning processes can be achieved in large medical schools by making large classes seem small.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere93328
    Pages (from-to)e93328
    Number of pages11
    JournalPLoS One
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2014


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