Carolynn Rafman, director of the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement in Montreal, discussed Group Size at the Maintaining Momentum 6, long-range planning session. The following summary of her remarks, by President Thelma Timmy Cohen, appeared in the February, 2007 issue of the MILR newsletter.

Carolynn Rafman addressed the problems of numbers in a presentation titled “Group Size Matters.” She reminded us of the “mystery” attaching to some numbers and how they have a particular reference to group size – seven, ten, eleven, twelve. As for the size of study groups, she concluded that “small is better,” since smaller discussion and research-intensive groups increase the motivation of participants to become involved. In general, she noted that seven or eight in a study group is preferable for eye contact without turning your head. Twelve is the upper limit as the arc of the circle becomes so flat that members cannot pick up non-verbal cues from neighbors. The far side of the circle necessitates a louder than usual voice and a more formal register. Beyond twelve, sub-grouping is preferable. Eighteen allows for resource constraints and is the next best size for a manageable class.

MILR’s four types of study groups require different sizes: Creative Writing and walking tours work best with 16; experiential groups need 12; research groups in history and science should not top 18; music appreciation often accepts 27. Moderators have the discretion to decide how many to accept, though the registrar makes recommendations and assertive members often demand entry into groups.

Carolynn concluded that MILR faces its own Catch 22. The larger the group, the greater the pool of talent and experience available for solving problems and sharing efforts, yet as size increases one or two dominate and the reticent fail to contribute, though they may enjoy the anonymity. Closing on a happier note, she noted that in a group of 23 there is a better than even chance that two members will share the same birthday.




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