(article updated 4-21-2015)
One of the best things about being in massage school is having the opportunity to deepen the learning experience with study partners.
Learning the particular set of skills it takes to be a good massage therapist is an extremely complex undertaking, as it takes place on many levels simultaneously (visual, auditory and kinesthetic, not to mention emotional, intellectual and spiritual). The studying of these skills, therefore, should take place on a multiplicity of levels as well. Participation in a group with like-minded study partners helps reinforce the learning experience that takes place in the classroom.
First and foremost, being in a study group gives you real bodies to practice new skills. This is beneficial not only to practice your modality technique, but also to enhance your palpation skills. Along these same lines, study groups take the sometimes abstract concepts that make up much of anatomy and kinesiology classes and place them squarely within a practical realm. You're no longer reading about the infraspinatus muscle; you're experiencing it.
Another way study groups reinforce learning is they give you an opportunity to practice and use the vocabulary of anatomy. Just as with learning any new language, proficiency is the result of continual usage. If you have someone with whom to practice all of your newfound nouns and predicates, they will become ingrained in you. Your study partners may also have developed their own tips, tricks and techniques for learning particular concepts that they can share with you and vice versa.
There is also an unavoidable social aspect to study groups. The possibilities to make it fun are limitless. In one anatomy class I taught, I found a video on YouTube that featured a song describing the path blood takes through the heart. As a group, they all learned (and passed) together. Another fun activity that can be done as a group is recreating a game show, such as Jeopardy! By coming up with questions that challenge your study partners, you will also demonstrate that you thoroughly comprehend the material.
Every year I suggest to my anatomy and physiology students that they form study groups-and every year there are a few students who live too far from the others to make it practical. For those people, I suggest a telephone-based study group. Most residential phone services offer three-way calling, which could be used for small groups. For more than three people, services provided by such companies as FreeConferenceCall.com can be used at no charge for the basic service.
Forming a group that meets online can be a viable option as well. With Google and Yahoo! offering free group hosting, emails and links to various Web-based resources, such as GetBodySmart.com, can be readily accessed.
Although online and phone study groups have the obvious disadvantage of not being able to practice on each other, they can still be very effective for comprehending vocabulary and concepts.
To make sure your study group is successful, write out a timeline, including goals, for each study session. This will help keep everyone on track, as sometimes all it takes is a simple, "Hey, did anyone see the game last night?" to completely derail the intentions of the group.
In addition to keeping a timeline, it may be beneficial to make sure everyone shows up prepared. If you're going to be quizzing each other, have everyone write out their questions beforehand. This will save valuable group time. Also, make sure everyone knows what is going to be reviewed. No one likes it when the group has to spend time bringing one person up to speed.
You should also consider the size of the group you want to join. If it's too small, it'll be easier to schedule but you may not receive the benefits you're looking for; if it's too large, it may become unmanageable in terms of making sure everyone gets to contribute-not to mention the logistics nightmare of getting everyone together at the same time. Once you do manage to figure out a time that works for everyone, make sure everyone is committed.
While study groups work for some people, they may not be the answer for everyone. Evaluate your needs, and then if a study group is right for you, join or start one that will best assist you in getting the most out of your massage education.