Peer learning occurs when students engage in collaborative learning.
- Learn with each other.
- Learn from each other.
- One learn from the other.
- Both be students.
- Each get something educationally beneficial out of the collaboration.
- Be equals either in terms of ability level or status as ‘students’.
There is no one peer learning strategy.
Any strategy involving collaboration of peers in a learning situation could be called ‘peer learning’.
Below are 9 examples.
9 Types of Peer Learning
1. Proctor model.
The proctor model involves senior students tutoring junior students.
The senior student can be:
- An older student from a higher grade level: In this instance, the older student benefits from the peer tutoring scenario because they consolidate knowledge they already know (‘the best way to learn is to teach’). They may also undertake the task to develop mentorship and leadership skills.
- A more skilled student helping a less skilled student in the same class: In this instance, the students may be the same age level and in the same class. However, one student is significantly more advanced than the other. This student acts as the ‘more knowledgeable other’, helping bring the other students up to their level. The more skilled student may benefit from this scenario by refining their knowledge and being able to apply it in their explanations.
2. Discussion seminars.
Discussion seminars are common in higher education. They usually occur following a lecture or prepared study (such as a weekly reading).
The purpose of the discussion seminar is for peers to talk together in a group about the topic they have just learned about.
Discussion seminars tend to be unstructured and designed to have students jump in with thoughts or contributions when they feel they have something important to add.
A teacher may present the students with a stimulus question or object. The students use that stimulus as an entry point into a discussion of the nuances, contradictions and features of the topic at hand.
For discussion seminars to be successful, teachers need to create a safe, comfortable space where students feel free to speak up in front of their peers.
3. Peer Support Groups.
Peer support groups are also known as private study groups. These tend not to have a teacher’s presence and are often organized by peers themselves.
Common peer study groups take place during free time, after school or on weekends.
A peer study group can be beneficial for motivating students in the lead-up to exams or assignment due dates.
Students who work together can stave off distraction, boredom and frustration. Peers can push each other past difficulties and mind blocks. When studying with peers, a student has people to bounce ideas off and provide support and explanations.
4. Peer Assessment Schemes.
Peer assessment schemes involve having students look over each other’s work and give feedback to one another.
The benefits of peer assessment schemes involve:
- Being able to see how other students have gone about the task.
- Getting insight into the cognitive processes and study strategies other students used.
- Learning diplomatic communication skills.
- A requirement to think critically about how to address a topic or task.
However, peer assessment schemes usually cannot be used for summative or formal assessments which require stringent quality control checks.
5. Collaborative Projects
Collaborative projects are common in science lab work. They involve getting students together to work on a problem that has been presented to them by the teacher.
Collaborative projects are very popular in 21st Century approaches such as problem based learning and problem posing education.
When students work together on longer-term projects, additional benefits may arise such as:
- Negotiation skills.
- Skill sharing capabilities.
- Setting and meeting deadlines.
- Interdependence (‘we sink or swim together’)
Collaborative projects can involve groups from as small as pairs up to large group collaborations.
6. Cascading Groups.
Cascading groups involve placing students in groups that are either successively smaller or successively larger:
- Successively smaller: The class starts out as a large group then splits in half for a follow-up activity. Then, those two groups split into halves again, and then again, until students end up in pairs or as individuals.
- Successively larger: Often called ‘think-pair-share’, this method involves starting out as an individual, then pairing up, then going into a group of 4, then 8, and so on.
A cascading group lesson has several benefits:
- In successively smaller groups, students can nominate areas of a topic they want to specialize in. They start with a general overview in the large group, then become experts on their small piece of the pie when they pair off to work alone.
- The successively smaller groups method also provides students with the chance to get support in larger groups to build up their knowledge before peeling off to work alone.
- In successively larger groups, students start off with their own thoughts which they then contribute to the larger group. As the groups get larger, students can pick up other students’ ideas and perspectives and build their knowledge more and more ‘from the ground up’.
7. Workplace mentoring.
Workplace mentoring involves having people in a workplace to pair up to support one another.
This can involve:
- Mentor-Mentee Relationship: A more established member of the workplace team mentors a new member of the team. This method closely mirrors the situated learning approach, whereby an apprentice is slowly absorbed into the workplace by observing their peers go about their work.
- Peer Support: On a regular basis, peers will watch one another go about their work to provide and receive tips and help on how to do the tasks more effectively or efficiently.
8. Reciprocal teaching.
Reciprocal teaching involves having students develop skills in scaffolding their peers’ learning. It has four skills that students should develop:
- Questioning: ask each other questions to test knowledge.
- Predicting: ask each other to predict answers based on limited knowledge.
- Summarizing: ask each other to sum something up in shorter terms.
- Clarifying: ask for help when you’re not sure about something.
With these four skills, students can develop the metacognitive skills to support one another in learning scenarios.
9. Expert Jigsaw Method
The expert jigsaw method involves getting students into two successive groups:
- Session 1: In the first instance, each group focuses on a different aspect of a topic.
- Session 2: Then, students peel off and re-form new groups. Each new group should have one member of each of the previous groups. This ensures that every group has one expert on a specific aspect of the topic. These new groups then go about a task, knowing there is breadth of knowledge amongst the group members.
Peer support in learning is underpinned by the sociocultural theory of education. The theory holds that learning and development can be progressed faster through social interactions.
This theory’s key proponents include Lev Vygotsky, Barbara Rogoff and Jerome Bruner.
Central aspects of the theory include:
- Scaffolding: Students can learn better when support is provided by a ‘more knowledgeable other’. When a student’s skills have developed sufficiently, the support is removed.
- Language Acquisition: Through social interaction, students develop the domain specific language required to discuss topics like mathematics, history, etc.
- Multiple Perspectives: By interacting with others, we see things from their perspectives which can open up new understandings about topics.
For more on the sociocultural approach, read my full post on the sociocultural theory of education.
Benefits and Challenges (Pros and Cons) of Peer-to-Peer Learning
- Students see each other’s perspectives to help them progress their knowledge.
- Teaching others helps us to learn a topic in even more depth.
- Social interaction may help motivate students to learn.
- Studying together can become ‘fun’, which in turn may encourage students to continue to focus on the topic for longer.
- Working in groups can be distracting for students, especially if some members of the group are not as focused as others.
- Some students work better in silence or isolation where they have time to think and focus.
- Students with sensory or behavioral challenges may struggle in peer-to-peer interactions.
- Students need to be explicitly taught group work and self-regulation skills before group work is a success.
- Students may not respect the critical feedback that their peers provide.
Teaching, learning from and interacting with peers is an incredibly useful strategy.
I’ve found that no matter how hard I try, sometimes a child is far better at explaining an idea to another child than I’ll ever be. They just have the capacity to speak to each other at the same level!
Peer interactions are incredibly important for learning in classrooms and the workplace.
References and Further Reading
All citations below are in APA format:
Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (2014). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other. London: Routledge.
Keenan, C. (2014). Mapping student-led peer learning in the UK. York: Higher Education Academy.
O’donnell, A. M., & King, A. (2014). Cognitive perspectives on peer learning. London: Routledge.
Riese, H., Samara, A., & Lillejord, S. (2012). Peer relations in peer learning. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25(5), 601-624.