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Embedded Tutoring and Embedded Groups


Embedded tutoring and group sessions boost student success in higher education. Tutors attend classes and offer out-of-class support, often with faculty involvement. Research supports their efficacy in improving grades and persistence. Implementation challenges include faculty buy-in, tutor recruitment, and student participation. Strategies to overcome these include starting with receptive faculty, offering incentives, using faculty recommendations for tutors, and enhancing student engagement. Success comes from starting small, demonstrating results, and expanding gradually while adapting to institutional needs.
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Written by
Ben Holmquist
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Published on
July 3, 2024

Embedded Tutoring and Group Tutoring Programs

This article is a deep dive into embedded tutoring and associated group sessions. This modality is becoming the gold standard for positively impacting student persistence. Below, we’ll discuss the various permutations of these groups, research supporting their efficacy, challenges in launching these programs and tips from directors on how to overcome those challenges. These insights were pulled from a group of 10 directors on a recent Penji moderated discussion, and are thus real-world, tested strategies for launching, sustaining, and growing your own embedded program.


  • Embedded tutoring refers to sending a tutor to attend class sessions to support both faculty and students. This resource makes faculty's lives easier by having someone available to answer questions during and after class.
  • Embedded groups are out-of-class support sessions, usually in an open and recurring group format, offered by embedded tutors. Faculty often help craft the agenda and problem sets for these sessions, and usually include the group session on the syllabus and LMS, sometimes even requiring attendance or offering extra credit.
  • Supplemental Instruction (SI) is a specific format for embedded support following the UMKC methodology. Many SI-alternative formats exist that don't require licensing fees but follow the same inspiration. SI usually features voluntary, drop-in attendance, focuses on high-DFW courses, are regularly scheduled, and are faculty supported.
  • Study Groups, Learning Groups, or other similar names are non-embedded tutoring groups. These are easier to start up and require less faculty buy-in, but may have less impact than embedded groups.

Research Supporting Embedded Tutoring, SI, and Group Tutoring

Numerous studies have shown positive impacts of embedded tutoring, SI, and group tutoring on student grades and persistence. A meta-review of SI studies found widespread increases in grades across various implementations.

The Goal: Embedded Groups in All Classes?

Embedded tutoring and embedded group sessions  are one of the most powerful tools for driving student success. Kelli Listenbee from Arkansas State University found embedded groups to have the strongest correlation with success compared to learning groups, 1:1 tutoring, and drop-in tutoring. A variety of research supports SI, group tutoring, and embedded tutoring as effective in increasing grades and student success - link, link, link.

Embedded groups are effective for a few key reasons:

  1. Group dynamics encourage peer learning, social connection, and the formation of study groups that will persist beyond the session.
  2. Faculty involvement helps the tutor weave their own instruction into the faculty’s format in a cohesive way. This offers an alternative “view” of the material from someone who’s recently been in the learner’s seat, while also ensuring the teaching methods align and work together and that the work in each session is relevant to the upcoming exams.
  3. Faculty are also bought into these sessions and will encourage or even require attendance. We all know the effectiveness of peer learning, so simply driving up usage rates is a huge win.

OK, embedded groups are pretty great, so why don’t they exist for every course on campus? The challenge, of course, lies in obtaining faculty buy-in.

Obtaining Faculty Buy-in

The key to behavior change, for faculty and for everyone else, is balancing costs versus benefits.

Here are a few key “costs” that faculty must overcome:

  • They have to adjust their syllabi to include these groups in their schedule and formally recognize the group session.
  • They have to consider if they will offer extra credit or even require attendance, and if so, have to obtain proof of attendance and feed that into gradebooks.
  • They must meet with the tutor on a regular basis to fill them in on course materials and coordinate the curriculum and problem sets that should be covered in the sessions

To overcome these, the benefits must be pitched in a way that outweigh the costs:

  • Improved Student Success: Studies support SI, group tutoring, and embedded tutoring as effective in increasing grades and student success (link, link, link, same as above). At least five Penji programs have shared anecdotal evidence that these embedded programs are their most successful at driving success.
  • In-class Support: Tutors can answer questions and reduce faculty workload. They are a helping hand for the faculty to lean on.
  • Financial Incentives: Some programs, like Portland State's learning center, offered stipends to encourage faculty participation in important classes. To get your first few classes going, you might consider carving out something similar from your budget. Once these classes are successful, you’ll have an easier time recruiting more faculty.

Learning Groups, Study Groups, Etc.

The difference between these and embedded groups are that you are offering this session without faculty buy-in. The motivation for offering these is usually two-fold:

  • They allow tutors' hours to go further, offering more support with the same resources.
  • They provide the benefits of group study, including peer-to-peer learning and social connections.

Ideas on Launching Embedded Groups

All embedded tutoring programs start small. Get going in a few classes, demonstrate success and happy faculty, and work to expand over time. Here are some strategies shared by participants:

  • Start with receptive faculty
    Crystal from Portland State University suggested beginning with friendly faculty who teach high DFW courses. As word spreads about the program's success, other faculty may become interested. Invest in faculty that you think might advocate vocally for their peers to participate over time.
  • Offer faculty incentives
    Crystal's program initially offered a $500 stipend to faculty for participating, which helped get the program off the ground.
  • Let faculty choose tutors
    Kelli from Arkansas State University found success in allowing faculty to recommend students as embedded tutors or group leaders. This gives faculty a sense of ownership in the program.
  • Highlight career benefits
    Kelli also suggested framing the program as a stepping stone for high-achieving students interested in graduate school or becoming teaching assistants.
  • Provide structure
    Having a curriculum structure where embedded tutors map out problems and topics to cover can improve session quality and faculty buy-in.
  • Start small and expand
    Begin with a few courses and gradually increase offerings as the program proves successful.
  • Collect and share data
    Track the impact of embedded tutoring on student success and share this information with faculty to encourage wider adoption.

Addressing the Challenge of Tutor Hiring

One significant challenge mentioned by participants was the difficulty in hiring and retaining qualified tutors. This issue is particularly pressing for programs that are growing or those that have recently lost tutors due to graduation. Here are some strategies shared by participants to address this challenge:

  • Leverage faculty recommendations
    Many programs find success in asking faculty to recommend their best students as potential tutors. This not only helps identify qualified candidates but also strengthens faculty buy-in for the tutoring program.
  • Use institutional data
    Kelli from Arkansas State University shared an interesting approach where they work with institutional research to identify students who performed well in specific courses. They then reach out to these students, inviting them to apply as tutors.
  • Peer-to-peer recruitment
    Heather from the University of Houston, Victoria, described a successful strategy where current tutors gave presentations in face-to-face classes to promote tutoring opportunities. This peer-to-peer approach resulted in several new tutor applications.
  • Host information sessions
    Rebecca from the University of Central Florida mentioned that their coordinators sometimes host information sessions about the tutoring program. These sessions, often held online for easy access, allow interested students to learn more about the role and ask questions.
  • Extend tutor tenure
    Heather also noted that they removed a two-year limit on tutor employment, recognizing that more experienced tutors often provide better service. This change helps retain skilled tutors for longer periods.
  • Create a tutor pipeline
    Some programs, like Kelli's, frame tutoring roles as stepping stones to graduate assistantships or other academic opportunities, which can attract high-achieving students.

Enhancing Student Engagement

Another common challenge discussed was encouraging student participation in tutoring sessions. Here are some strategies shared by participants:

  • Embedded scheduling
    Kelli's program embeds SI sessions directly into students' course schedules, making attendance mandatory and significantly increasing participation rates.
  • Faculty promotion
    When faculty actively promote and support tutoring services, student participation tends to increase. This underscores the importance of faculty buy-in.
  • Targeted partnerships
    Tasha from Leeward Community College found success in partnering with specific campus groups, such as the Native Hawaiian Center and ESL programs, to reach underserved student populations.
  • Use of technology
    Several participants mentioned using tools like Penji to make it easier for students to find and sign up for tutoring sessions.
  • Pre-semester connections
    Tasha's program used Flipgrid to introduce tutors to ESL students before the semester started, helping students feel more comfortable seeking help.
  • Diverse offerings
    Providing a mix of one-on-one, group, and embedded tutoring options can help meet various student needs and preferences.


Running a successful group tutoring program requires balancing multiple factors, including faculty engagement, tutor recruitment and retention, and student participation. By implementing a combination of the strategies discussed above, institutions can work towards creating more effective and widely-used tutoring programs. Remember that what works best may vary depending on your institution's specific context and needs. Continual assessment and adaptation of your program will be key to its long-term success and impact on student achievement.

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