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
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.