This is a situation that can be commonly found in graduate school lectures, low demand subjects, or in small educational institutes. Normally you will have two or three students paying attention to the instructor helping them with a subject of interest. Since there is small number of students, the instructor can enter into one-on-one situations with a student easily, when needed. The student will have a peer or two who can better understand his troubles or point out something of which he needs to know more. The presence of a peer will allow the use of many of active learning or collaborative learning methods. Since the number of students is small, it is easy for the instructor to customize the lectures and sessions to the needs of the students. Done right, this setting can offer you most of the benefits of one-on-one tutoring and allow you to do many other activities not possible in one-on-one tutoring situations. Under the right guidance from the instructor it is possible that students can take turns embellishing the class contents with their own unique experiences and perspectives.
No classroom situation is without its own unique set of potential problems, however. When you have only two or three students, it is easy for them to become too competitive with each other. If one student is too far ahead of others, it can discourage other students. A student having severe difficulty with the subject can easily drag down the whole class. In a class where both students are of similar level, they might be too similar to each other, making it hard to find or introduce a different angle to a problem. To derive the most benefit from this setting, the students must be similar enough in a way, but different enough to ensure diversity, as diversity is essential to many active/collaborative learning processes. If the match, and also differences, between the students are detrimental, it will take great effort from the instructor to make the mini-group study sessions be as productive as they can be, and sometimes, it may be necessary to conduct time-sharing groups instead. The writer will discuss the time-sharing group in the next section.
Another danger in a mini-group setting is the lack of students. If one student misses a session, the whole situation becomes one-on-one tutoring, which may halt on-going active/collaborative learning project. While the instructor and the student can find ways to capitalize on these situations, if this happens multiple times at random intervals, the disruptions to the class’s flow will waste time and resources of everyone involved. Even if no one misses any sessions, other problems of regarding the private tutoring format may arise in this setting as well, though the severity and frequency will be much less.
Most homes are not equipped with a room that can handle the mini-group and the instructor. Since there will be much conversations between students and the instructor, having the class at a coffee shop or in a library may not be feasible. It is better to set aside a dedicated classroom for these mini-groups. For many educational institutes, these mini-group offer financial and logistical challenges, as they will need to provide large number of instructors and classrooms. It is the writer’s opinion that the mini-group setting is best for small educational institutes, graduate schools, and specialized courses that need to delve into finer details compared to typical academic classes.