Peer Learning: Benefits and Best Practices

Peer learning is an instructional practice found to be more beneficial when compared to one-on-one classes and class-wide instruction.

Harvard Professor Eric Mazur popularized this evidence-based, interactive teaching in the early 1990s.

What is peer learning?

[Definition] Peer learning, also known as peer-to-peer learning, is based on the constructivist learning theory that students learn from one another. Rather than the teacher sharing everything there is to know, other students of the same level teach each other what they know.

Peer learning creates a flipped classroom by taking away information transfer and facilitating information assimilation, focusing on the application of student learning in class.

This method of learning has been assessed using a variety of diagnostic tests and has shown to be much more effective than the conventional approach to learning.

Peer learning is not a substitute for teaching; however, it enhances education by adding to its learning activities and enables students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Who is Eric Mazur?

Eric Mazur is a physicist and professor who has been widely recognized for his scientific work and leadership. He is a big believer in peer learning.

He was even selected as one of the seventy-five most outstanding American physicists by the American Association of Physics Teachers and received the “Presidential Young Investigator Award” by President Ronald Regan.

There are several methods of implementing peer instruction, and its demonstration can be seen in this video:

Who are ‘peers’ in peer learning?

The ‘peers’ in peer learning are the other students or fellow learners who are in a similar situation. They are not teachers or instructors. They may have considerable or little expertise in the role.

What is Peer Teaching?

In peer teaching, one student instructs the other student on the lesson material. This is not to be confused with peer learning. In peer teaching, the student providing the instructions is an expert, whereas the other student is a novice.

How can we incorporate peer learning in the classroom?

Students can learn outside the classroom by doing some pre-class reading and answering questions about the assigned reading using Just in Time teaching.

JIT Teaching can be short questions that prompt students to think about the upcoming lesson, so students will be prepared for more complex problems in class.

The instructor proposes some conceptual questions based on what they think students need more help with.

Here is what Eric Mazur recommends in peer learning:

  1. Teacher asks a question based on students responses to the pre-class reading
  2. Students reflect and form individual answers
  3. Teacher reviews the students’ responses
  4. Students discuss their answers with their peers
  5. Students then commit to an individual answer
  6. The teacher reviews the responses and decides whether more explanation is needed before moving on to the next topic

There is no single practice for peer learning, and we will discuss some other best strategies for peer learning and teaching later in this article.

Benefits of Peer Learning

Peer learning is an important part of learning due to its range of benefits:

  • Helps students learn effectively from one another
  • Students learn how to collaborate with others
  • Develop organizational and planning skills
  • Allows students to evaluate their own learning
  • Enables students to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Helps find solutions to problems and provides emotional support
  • Students may become more receptive to learning
  • Fosters a culture of community while developing soft skills

Peer learning shares others’ experiences which students can learn from. The students may have gone through the same problem but have an effective solution.

For example, in a work context, a manager might learn more from another manager within the same company than an external trainer.

Learners might also be more receptive to new information when they are learning from their fellow students rather than an authoritative outsider.

Teamwork and cooperation that students learn through this collaborative practice help prepare students for working in professional settings in the future.

Recent research shows the implementation of peer-to-peer learning, its benefits and results here.

Peer Learning Best Practices

There are many ways we can implement peer-to-peer learning in the classroom and the workplace. Here is a mix of peer teaching and peer learning best practices:

Senior to Junior

Older students can teach junior students. This helps the students in the higher grade learn by teaching and revise old subjects that they are already familiar with. This is called cross-age peer tutoring.

This can also work when the more ‘knowledgeable’ or advanced student in the class helps bring the student up to their level. The more advanced students also benefit by refining and applying their knowledge.

Study Groups

Students can form peer study groups. This is one of the informal ways to have peer learning groups.

If students study together, their peers can push them to do better. Most of the time, students organize these themselves, and they can take place during school, during free time, after school or on weekends.

Discussion Seminars

Discussion seminars are discussion groups common in higher education. They are designed for students to work together and jump in with their thoughts.

A teacher may be present to guide the discussion point. This can be a successful, safe and productive student environment when students feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Peer Assessment Schemes

Peer assessment schemes are forms of peer learning that involve people looking over each other’s work and giving feedback.

The University of the People shows how they implement peer assessment schemes:

Students submit weekly tasks and other students correct their work and provide feedback. A rubric breaks down the marking scheme and work is graded by three students for fair results. The teacher supervises the grading.

Think-Pair-Share Activities

Think-pair-share activities can be easily implemented in the classroom.

A pair of students are picked from the class. One of the students performs the role of the tutor, and the other student performs the role of the tutee.

The tutee gives the response to the particular topic or question asked and expand on their answer with the help of the tutor.

The tutor helps them form credible answers. Each pair share their answer to the class, and the floor is opened to discussion.

This helps students learn about other students’ points of view while developing their understanding of a topic to draw effective conclusions.

Encourage Other Peers to Learn Together

You can encourage different students to work together to share ideas. This allows students to hear new other points of view that they may not have thought of before.

Pairing mixed-ability students allow students to take tutor and tutee roles. Pairing same-ability students add variety to your teaching approach.

Add Variety

Use different multimedia to get information across. Vary the type of content, such as written, visual or audio. Vary how you facilitate the classroom experience by exposing students to different forms of training and education.

Peer Learning in the Workplace Strategies

While this form of education may be prevalent in the school, it can also be effectively applied for performance improvements at work.

  • Mentoring
  • Learning lunches
  • Employee-Accessible LMS

Mentoring

Mentors are particularly helpful to new employees if they are having problems. This is a good peer learning strategy that can be even more practical than traditional training.

Effective mentoring can build relationships between employees and helps employees learn relevant and practical information that will benefit processes in the organisation.

Learning Lunches

At learning lunches, employees meet for some discussion relating to work.

This type of social activity involves choosing a group of employees to get together for lunch every so often to discuss a topic of interest to the workforce.

This can be formal or informal, and the topic of discussion can be left up to the presenter or the workplace.

Learning lunches help create a sense of community and spirit among workers.

Employee Accessible LMS

The internet makes it even easier to engage in social learning, no matter where members of an organization are situated.

Employees can share knowledge across learning platforms. You can share a wide variety of content, such as videos or written presentations.

In addition, a company communication tool such as Slack can be implemented as a learning tool to further foster learning development and growth.

Useful Links

Tips When Implementing Among Young Students

How we can make peer teaching and peer learning better for younger students.

Use Modelling and Roleplay

Explain the procedure, model each part, and use roleplay to show how to give praise and correct peers.

Use a Rewards System

The inclusion of a rewards system for young students can encourage on-task behavior. This can help overcome issues with students lacking motivation. For example, maybe students can earn a sticker or a ticket for a draw.

Explain How to Provide Feedback

Teach the importance of positive verbal peer feedback. Give genuine praise. When giving the correct answer, try to answer without being critical.

In Conclusion

There is no single practice for peer learning. Peer-learning programs can be added in different ways to suit the learning needs of a particular course.

Peer learning provides a range of benefits and develops important skills such as critical thinking and communication skills.

It promotes effective collaborative learning as students answer more accurately when discussing their answers with their peers.

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