Learning and development go through trends like any other field. And it can be difficult to know which trends are worth following. Microlearning, personalization, gamification, and mobile-friendliness are all trendy right now. Will they stay around?
Peer-to-peer learning is another trend that’s been gaining traction in the learning and development world. But what is it? How can it benefit the learning at your company? Is it worth investing in? Will it stick around?
And, most importantly, how can you get started and make peer learning successful at your company? Let’s take a look.
What is peer-to-peer learning?
Peer-to-peer learning allows students or coworkers to work through new concepts and material with other peers who are working on the same project, as well as opportunities to teach and be taught by one another, broadening their perspectives and fostering meaningful connections.
Learners Teaching Learners
In school settings, peer-to-peer learning is all about students teaching other students. Peer-to-peer learning in the workplace is similar—instead of students, though, it’s employees teaching one another.
Peer teaching can take many forms, as we’ll discuss shortly. But the common factor is that knowledge is shared not by an instructor or other person of authority. It’s all about people on the same level teaching each other what they know.
Peer learning In the workplace can be both formal and informal. And the combination of both is key to successful learning and development. We’ll talk about a few different forms of peer-to-peer learning that you can use to take advantage of both methods.
But first, let’s talk about why peer-to-peer learning is a great way to share knowledge at your company.
Why Is Peer-to-Peer Learning a Good Strategy?
You might be surprised to find out that peer-to-peer learning is an effective method of knowledge transfer. After all, companies hire experts for a reason. They have more relevant knowledge than learners, and there’s a good chance they’ve had formal instruction on teaching as well.
So why would you give that up to have unqualified teachers driving your learning strategy?
Because peer learning is a cost-effective method of training and development. In 2010, Learning Solutions magazine reported that British Telecom was saving $12,000,000 per year by using an open-source learning solution and encouraging peer teaching.
(While the number isn’t quite as staggering, we’re proud to report that our own platform saves customers an average of $107,000 per year.)
Why is peer learning so effective? Much of it comes down to the fact that learners share similar experiences, and that common experience has significant benefits. Employees understand the issues they face on a day-to-day basis better than any consultant or trainer could.
That level of insight does wonders for learners. Think about it this way. If you’re a manager, who are you going to trust for insights on how to better communicate within your group? An external trainer who has a management consulting certificate, or another manager in your company who’s already gone through the same problems and come up with an effective solution?
That shared experience builds a connection between teachers and learners based on trust and respect. That connection fosters learning in a way that consultants, trainers, and experts just can’t.
These benefits of peer teaching have been recognized in education for decades. It’s only now becoming more prevalent in the workplace. It’s not just the learners that have advantages in peer-to-peer learning, though. Teachers also get a lot out of it. It’s been said for centuries that teaching is one of the best ways to learn.
And that applies to peer-to-peer learning. Teachers both reinforce their own knowledge and gain insights from learners who aren’t as familiar with the topic. It’s a win for everyone.
People are more comfortable in peer learning situations than they are in traditional training environments, which rely on authoritative outsiders. By replacing an outsider with someone who the audience immediately feels a connection with, the learners are in a more receptive mode.
In addition to classroom-type interactions, peer-to-peer learning also includes one-on-one learning (we’ll talk about how you might do that in a moment). Through mentoring or simple problem-solving meetings, employees build strong connections with each other and share the lessons they’ve learned in their experience at your company.
Let’s take a look at how you might put a peer learning program in place.
How to Start Peer-to-Peer Learning in the Workplace
No matter how big your company is, you can start a peer learning program without much investment. One of the strengths of this type of learning is that it can be done rather informally. Here are three things you can do to kickstart peer learning at your company:
Many companies have instituted a learn-at-lunch program, and you can organize one in just a few minutes. A learning lunch is simple: everyone in a group, department, or company gets together on a certain day to have lunch together (you can have the lunch catered or just ask everyone to bring something). During the lunch, one person presents a topic of interest.
The restrictions you place on the topic are up to you; some companies encourage their employees to talk about work-related things, and others leave it completely up to the presenter. Either way, people are learning.
You can also choose the frequency that works best for your group; you might do it weekly, monthly, or quarterly (though more often is probably better).
The level of formality is also up to you. If you think your employees would be willing to put together a short presentation, feel free to ask them to! If you think they’d rather keep it as informal as possible, that’s an option, too.
If you want to see a great example of a learning lunch, look no further than Bitly. They’ve had presentations on things like how to build an iOS app and and the importance of international collaboration . . . as well as puns, GIFs, and a bike ride across Iowa.
Bitly has grown their sense of community, learning, and growth with a learning lunch. It might be the easiest way you can, too.
Mentoring is a great example of peer-to-peer learning, even if it doesn’t feel like traditional training. It’s not always focused on a particular issue or area, but mentors are great at helping newer employees solve problems they’re facing.
There’s a very strong social component to mentoring, and that’s one of its greatest strengths (we’ll talk about social aspects in a moment). This is why it’s important that mentors and mentees have a good social relationship. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. But those who are can be a huge credit to your organization.
In addition to sharing knowledge, effective mentoring builds strong relationships within your organization—the importance of which can’t be overstated. Both parties gain a great deal in the process, and your company benefits in the long run.
Inc has a great article on how to start a mentoring program at your company. With structure, a bit of training, and the right format, a mentoring program can help your employees learn more relevant, practical information than they could ever hope to with traditional training.