Transforming your staff's potential

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Peer Learning

Having the opportunity to participate in the design and development of a professional development program for my client, I am investigating all kinds of informal learning strategies.  Here is what I've been reading on Peer Learning:

First, a couple definitions:

From Beep-eu.org glossaryPeer learning is an approach that involves working with communities of practice, developing learning 'journeys', etc. This can also be called 'learning from within', i.e. not trying to replicate what others have done (because there are no panaceas and no two places or situations are the same), but replicating their creativity, ingenuity and reflexivity in order to develop and implement new ideas whilst reducing the risk. 

From InnovateOnlineTopping and Ehly (1998) define peer-assisted learning as "the acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and supporting among status equals or matched companions" (1). Peer tutoring, as a specific form of peer-assisted learning, is a collaborative approach in which pairs of pupils interact to assist each other's academic achievement, with one pupil adopting the role of tutor and the other the role of the tutee. Reciprocal peer tutoring "employs same-age student pairs of comparable ability with the primary objective of keeping both peer student and peer teacher engaged in constructive academic activity" (Fantuzzo and Ginsburg-Block 1998, 121). This is in contrast to more usual forms of peer tutoring, which operate with different abilities in the pair and sometimes with pupils of different ages.

Now, some other insights:

From a paper published in the International Journal for Academic Development, " Situating academic development in professional work: using peer learning,"  by David Boud, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia:

Boud speaks to the challenges arising from locating development in academic work.  He says that not all contexts are conducive to peer learning and careful consideration is needed to determine when it's appropriate. He highlights the following points to consider:

  • Will development be a form of enculturation?
  • What is it legitimate to do for and with one’s peers?
  • Linking development with strategic priorities
  • Leadership support and development as part of leadership
  • Using appropriate personnel in development


Beth Kanter, at her blog, recently discussed peer learning in the non-profit world.  She spoke to peer learning as a strategy for building three types of capacity: network weaving, the strategic use/measurement of social media and investing in networks.
She listed six initial observations that she has seen emerge as the most important in this type of application:
  • The substance of the peer learning experience should be of immediate use in the participants’ work—ideally an emerging area that needs attention where there is not yet a lot of information, and where the group can co-create material.
  • The participants need a substantial amount of common ground in relation to the topic—whether it is their size, issue area, location, or other factors, they have to share enough that their commonalities are easily visible to one another.
  • The group needs to quickly build trust, so that participants are comfortable learning alongside one another and seek out their peers for direct input. For many groups, meeting in-person is key, particularly in the early stages.
  • The participants’ motivation is essential, so it works well for grantees to be given a free hand in choosing whether to join.
  • It should be clear to all involved that the learning process will be exploratory and emergent rather than tightly structured and directive.

Over at Employment @ Suite 101, Andree Iffrig writes about how informal communities of inquiry can enhance professional commitment through storytelling in the post, "Peer Learning and Storytelling in Organizations":
Storytelling in an informal setting is an invitation for professionals to step into a new space and frame of mind, detached from the harsh reality of the workday world. Stories are compelling because they speak to people at a feeling level, cutting through the coats of professional veneer employees accumulate working in organizations. In the context of an informal community of inquiry, stories bring out the collective wisdom and experience of participants.
Getting at this kind of knowledge would be nearly impossible with conventional meeting techniques. It takes the combination of safe environment and storytelling to illuminate this wisdom and make it available to the group. Storytelling in the context of a discovery process helps participants move from reflecting silently on a topic, to sharing their reflections, to group discussion. The end result is often a discovery of shared values and a reaffirmation of commitment.

In a research paper published by Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative entitled "Bridging the Gap: The Use of Learning Partnerships to Enhance Workplace Learning," by Kate Collier and  Jacqui McManus, they concluded that peer learning partnerships and related strategies appear to be successful in bridging the gap between 'off the job training' and workplace learning.  However, the way learning partnerships are set up and supported throughout a training program appears to have a direct impact in their effectiveness.  They list benefits that include:
  • Participants becoming more aware of themselves as learners
  • Discovering how others can support participants in their learning
  • Enhancing participant's learning in formal learning programs, and
  • The effective transfer of learning into the workplace

In a paper published by University of Alberta on "Peer Collaboration as a Model for Workplace Learning in Health Care: Possibilities and Challenges" by a slew of academics (click on link to see authors), they conclude:
"In the rapidly changing workplace, peer collaboration offers health care workers a sense of community and provides a forum for self-reflective practice. A barrier to effective collaboration is “creating a space to meet.” Within the goal-directed milieu of the Calgary Health Region, participants reported difficulty in reconciling the time “spent on self” when patient needs seemed more pressing. However, participants reported both personal and professional gains from their involvement in the project. Therefore, a preliminary conclusion is that peer collaboration offers a stable and supportive learning context and is a compelling option for continuous learning in the workplace."




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