Ever since COVID19 took over the world, online classes have surged to a record high. Although, even before the pandemic, the Edtech industry was seemingly on the rise. According to World Economic Forum, the market for online education is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025. Where online learning has become popular, making it effective is definitely a challenge for experts and learners alike. For this purpose, educators have tried to incorporate various pedagogical strategies into their online courses, one of them being 'Peer learning'.
What is Peer learning?
Whilst most of you may not be familiar with the actual term, but you have definitely experienced it in your classrooms before. To describe it simply, 'Peer learning' is a collaborative learning method where fellow classmates - AKA peers - work together to learn from each other. Remember the group assignments your instructors made you do in school? That is an example of Peer learning.
"...it can be described as a way of moving beyond independent to interdependent or mutual learning"
- David Boud, a distinguished educator, and researcher.
Online learning can be very isolating and students can quickly become disinterested. With this collaborative learning approach, students shift from passive receivers of information to active participants dispensing knowledge. As the task of understanding a concept falls on their shoulders, students also become more accountable and therefore, pay more attention in class.
This type of active learning demands students to engage in a sophisticated form of thinking. By participating in discussions, students develop critical thinking and evaluative skills. Unlike rote learning, where learners just unquestioningly absorb the content, students here deduct viable conclusions collectively, and independently from their instructors. Not only do students learn better but teachers also have their burden shared.
Benefits of Peer learning
Let's look at some of the key reasons why peer learning is better than the instructor-led learning approach.
Improves student performance
The peer approach limits the role of an instructor to a moderator only. This makes students responsible for investing their efforts into to course more. When left to fend themselves, students no better not to mess around. A responsible student is more engaged and hence learns better. A key aspect of such learning is that students teach each other, and one can only teach something to others when they have a good understanding of it themselves. As a result, the student feels compelled to work hard and focus more.
At the same time, the peer approach improves student performance by providing them with personalized attention. In normal online cohort-based classes, the attention of the instructor is divided between the class. Although one can easily reach out to the instructor through emails or chats, that still isn't enough at times. To overcome this issue, peers come together in pairs or groups and teach each other when a teacher can't. This way they individual focus and hence perform better.
Peer learning encourages community building
As a communal environment is a prerequisite for peer-to-peer learning it automatically promotes the values of community building. Students not only come together to clear their concepts more but also get to understand each other on a deeper level. The very basis of this peer approach is interacting with others and helping them with their problems. By working together, participants overcome any prejudices they may have against others. This results in developing healthy and mutually equal relationships.
Peer learning increases confidence in students
In normal class discussions with large student strength, most of the students feel uncomfortable sharing their views, consequently only the louder and more confident students end up engaging. Such discussions lose their actual purpose as only limited perceptions are brought forward. Conversely, with peer learning class strength is split into smaller more intimate groups that help students overcome their social anxieties and participate in discussions more.
As students are made to frequently present their work to the class and share their ideas with fellow peers, they overcome their shyness and improve their confidence exponentially. Hence, the peer method also teaches students another key life skill: self-confidence.
Peer learning is scalable
If you are an online course creator then you must be quite familiar with the importance of scalability. Simply put, scalability refers to the ability to stretch your class size to any desired level; whether you wish to teach 30 students or 300 at once. Peer learning along with the right tools can help you scale your course as per your desire without any hassle. It is also compliant with several teaching techniques.
Especially in the case of larger classes, where it becomes harder to manage and focus on every participant, peer teaching techniques can come to your rescue. Students can review each others' work and provide substantial feedback. Using techniques like the jigsaw method, you can divide the contents of the class between the students so they can teach it to the others.
Peer learning improves knowledge retention
We have seen a lot of online learners complain that ever since school has moved online, they are unable to learn properly. They struggle with developing their concepts and are unable to retain all the knowledge. Such a perception has made people skeptical of the effectiveness of online learning.
Peer learning is the perfect solution to the ineffectiveness of passive teaching methods. When students are made accountable for their own learning they invest more in their classes. As mentioned above in the article, this helps improve their overall performance. But most importantly, it also improves their memory. Remember when your parents or teachers would advise you to engage in group study because that will help you learn better? Well, they were right. Studies have proved this time and again that when people explain things to each other they can understand them better, therefore, the concepts stay with them longer.
Methods to integrate Peer learning in online classes
Hopefully, by now, you must be convinced about the numerous benefits of peer-to-peer learning. Now the question at hand is how to incorporate peer learning into your online synchronous courses. This section looks at some of the most viable ways by which you can effectively introduce a peer approach in your classes.
Try to include as many group-based activities in your courses as possible. This will make for effective learning and also help alleviate feelings of isolation amongst online learners. A great way to do this is by assigning simulation activities or role-plays. They are a fun way of explaining concepts and students feel more interested in participating. This can be difficult to attempt in remote learning but thanks to advances in technology anything is possible. You can use Zoom for this.
Peer reviewed assignments
Assign students to anonymously review fellow classmates' assignments and to respond to that feedback. Students will learn to actively evaluate concepts as a result. Do not simply hand the assignments over to students thinking it will decrease your workload. Remember, your role may be limited but it is not entirely unnecessary. Your job as an expert is to behave as a facilitator. Provide students with a marking rubric so they have a blueprint for correct evaluation.
Peer-led courses do not mean that peers get to take over the instructor's job entirely. Rather, it refers to presentation activities whereby students take up a teacher's role for a brief while to explain a concept while the instructor moderates the session. This method in particular helps boost participants' confidence. The pyramid below shows that teaching others is the best way of learning. Students can retain 90% of the content that they are able to teach others.
Also known as mentorship programs, buddy partnerships are where each student is paired with a fellow peer throughout the duration of the course. These buddies are responsible to help explain concepts to each other, complete projects together, and just generally provide moral support to each other.
Another effective and engaging way of independent student learning is by conducting online seminars. Students come together to talk about a particular topic and contribute their perspectives to the discussions, hence, expanding the understanding. The purpose of such seminars is to develop autonomous learners. By sharing each other's views, students also learn to listen well to others and respect the different opinions they put forward. It is a great exercise for inculcating mutual respect amongst your students.
In this article, we discussed the concept and purpose of 'Peer learning', its advantages, and how to practically apply this approach to your online classes. We established that Peer learning is the ultimate solution to other passive online learning. The approach transforms students into autonomous yet community-based learners. As it makes them more accountable for their learning, they focus better during classes. Besides that peer learning diminishes the divide between learners and experts, and resolves the teacher-student power imbalance to promote an egalitarian learning environment.
For more thorough guides on Cohort-based learning, check out our Blog.