Peer based learning

I’m delivering a webinar this morning for the Learning and Skills Group on peer learning as a support to classroom based learning. Here’s my notes of what I’m going to be talking about.

On one end of the spectrum you have L&Ders who firmly believe that stand and deliver is still the best way to deliver learning to the masses. At the other end you have self-directed learning. Peer based learning sits towards the self-directed end of that spectrum.

I personally believe that if we don’t adapt our methodologies for delivering learning well, we’ll become redundant through our own actions.

There are several examples of what this peer based learning looks like.

In the classroom environment I’m moving more towards asking people to use their smartphones to research material and read content. It saves me prep time, I just need to direct to a good URL, and boom they’re off. It allows people to read at their pace, take in the knowledge they want to, and then we can discuss this meaningfully as a group.

There are practitioners who are ‘flipping’ the classroom. This is where they send all the reading material ahead of the session, ask people to read it and then use the session to discuss and debate the content.

I grant these are less about peer led examples, but they’re good examples of how we’re creating other ways to support adult learning.

At a previous company we needed everyone to complete Prince2 Foundation certificates for project manager roles. Instead of sending them all on training or doing an in-house session, we bought the materials for everyone, and set them a 12 week deadline to have completed the learning materials. They had to meet weekly and self facilitate their learning with a mentor. On the last day a trainer came to consolidate their learning for half a day and then they sat an exam. We had 100% pass rate every time.

Opening up the way projects are set up with project teams is interesting. If you have business projects that need to be carried out and open these up to the business, you then invite people to step up who are naturally interested and can offer something useful to each project. The projects are guided with mentors from the business and then they are expected to deliver on these.

Instead of holding presentation skills training why not hold an internal Toastmasters group? A set time where people can come, practise their presentation with peers, get feedback and support, and all without formally being told how to structure a killer presentation. (There is a place for that, not everyone needs to know that).

Building on that you can have open mic sessions. Ask a subject matter expert to talk on a topic of their choice with an open invitation for anyone to attend. People interested in the topic will attend, there’s no expectation of people registering, and they’re learning topics of interest.

Communities of practice are where you bring together a group of people who have a common interest, give them the opportunity to talk and bang heads together and they get creative and innovative about what they need to work on next. No direction, no management, no objectives, just people with an interest talking to each other.

The hardest part about these examples is that most of them don’t require management via an LMS. They just need facilitated support and in some cases actual facilitation.

It’s scary reading about these things because it’s easy to think you’re being left behind if you don’t do them. That’s partly true. What’s more true is that if we don’t move in the direction of the above all we’re doing is holding back the genius of our people because of our own ego. We are so desperate to prove our worth to the business that enabling these types of things to happen means that we can’t report on them being L&D lead activities.

The best thing we can do is be brave in our solutions and have the courage to experiment. The one thing I’ve learned in this role is that it’s ok to experiment because that’s a safe way to learn. We can fail well, we can have success well, and we can face cynicism well. Try one idea from the above with your teams. See what happens. Then try again once you’ve tweaked it. Then try again once you’ve got some experience under your belt. That’s what learning looks like.

Join in the webinar if you can from 1000-1100 on the #lsgwebinar hashtag. Have a search, click the link and I’ll see you there.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

4 thoughts on “Peer based learning”

  1. Sukh, I welcome your comments and something I have been pondering in my practise over the past few months.

    While recently co delivering a senior leadership programme I squirmed when the UK MD of a global company referred to my colleague and I were experts who they should listen to. Once he left the room I told them I did not consider myself an expert I just had some stuff, and it was for them to choice if that was relevant for them.

    I also did a session yesterday with a senior team using the Business Model Canvas to strengthen their business planning. I sent them an HBR article and a copy of the canvas, quick intro from me yesterday, a few questions testing where they were, and then set them loose to play with the model. They were clever people and they did not need me spouting off at the front.

    Maybe its ego, but I got bruised late last year by a bunch of lawyers who wanted to be talked at and entertained and did not like my facilitative style, so there’s also something about the audience. But increasingly I find groups are increasingly comfortable with the facilitative style.

    So I get them to use smartphones and iPads, after all thats a business tool now, i point at a page , for example the grow model, read it and go an coach. It does not need me to draw it on a flip chart or put it on a slide. Go do, observe and notice yourself and reflect thats the key I believe.

    My headteacher of the school I am Governor said it nicely the other day “those teachers who deliver content are lazy, its working with it and the other core curricular of english and maths that differentiates the great teachers”.

    Maybe theres a lesson?

    1. Well said, Ian, and I share your discomfort with the term “expert.” Similarly, I bristle when someone calls me a “trainer.” As the saying goes: you train dogs and horses; people you help to learn.

  2. Hello Sukh, Again a spot-on blogpost. One small detail that I feel I need to point out: in your second paragraph you use the term “deliver learning.” You know what you meant and I know what you meant, but there might be some who actually believe that “learning” can be “delivered.”

    As Ian so wonderfully puts it in his reply, our job as L&Ders is to facilitate learning, which means creating an environment where people can develop themselves. We “deliver” frameworks, content and resources, but the “learning” is done by the cohort. That is, if we’ve done our job well.

    Thanks again for your great and well stated insights.

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