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Peer Learning



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Learning Path #1: What is Peer Learning?

Peer learning is an educational process where peers interact with other peers interested in the same topic. It is when we learn with and from each other. We can do this formally, informally, while we are face to face, or online. We can do it at the same time, or we can learn from each other asynchronously by leaving messages, comments, emails or recordings back and forth between ourselves.

Adult Learning & Social Learning

A bit about social learning and other learning theories - just a peek! The point of this section is to provide references for those who wish to understand the theory and research that sits beneath peer learning in the context of adult learning.

The importance of peer learning comes from what we know about adult learning and social learning theory. (For more on adult learning, see Adult Learning: An Overview by Stephen Brookfield.) These two fields suggest that adults learn from doing, from learning in context and from the social engagement they experience learning with others.

David Kolb has described an adult learning cycle, also known as "Kolb's Cycle."  The four phases include experiences where "the learner: (1) does something concrete or has a specific experience that provides a basis for (2) the learner's observation and reflection on the experience and his or her own response to it. These observations are then (3) assimilated into a conceptual framework or related to other concepts in the learner's past experience and knowledge from which implications for action can be derived; and (4) tested and applied in different situations." (See Kolbs Learning Cycle http://www.utexas.edu/student/utlc/learning_resources/learning/Kolbs_Learning_Cycle.pdf)

Peer learning is based in  real work: sharing what one is doing with others, asking for support, questions and answers and feedback. All four aspects of Kolb's cycle can be observed. Here is an example.

Sue's library has decided to add  an evening computer class to meet the increased demand of patrons needing to use computers to search for jobs and composing resumes. It's her job to put together and execute a plan on a very tight budget. (1) She sends a query to a librarian's email list group she belongs to to find out if anyone else has already done this. She gets back 5 great replies. Some of the responses are in very different contexts, so she prioritizes the ideas she think will be useful in her library and creates her plan. (2) Sue then begins to execute the plan. In her first attempt to find a local trainer, she realizes she forgot the option of tapping into local college students who could volunteer. She goes back to the list to ask for ideas about volunteer computer mentors and then adjusts her plan.  She also checks with her library's volunteer policy and past experience and finds out from an-about-to-be retired colleague that there is an organization in town that specializes in just this area. She connects with them and soon has a volunteer based plan. (3) After six months, Sue is asked to share her experiences at a library conference. In preparation, she sends out her early reflections to the list she initially used to reciprocate the value she received. Another library was just starting a similar program and was able to add some additional validation to the approach. (4

Here is a bit more about Kolb's Four Steps, again from http://www.utexas.edu/student/utlc/learning_resources/learning/Kolbs_Learning_Cycle.pdf

1. Experiencing or immersing oneself in the "doing" of a task is the first stage in which the individual, team, or organization simply carries out the task assigned. The engaged person is usually not reflecting on the task at this time, but carrying it out with intention.

2. Reflection involves stepping back from task involvement and reviewing what has been done and experienced. The skills of attending, noticing differences, and applying terms help identify subtle events and communicate them clearly to others. A learner’s paradigm (values, attitudes, beliefs) influences whether he or she can differentiate certain events. Vocabulary is also important, since words are necessary for verbalizing and discussing perceptions.

3. Conceptualization involves interpreting the events that have been noticed and understanding the relationships among them. At this stage, theory may be particularly helpful as a template for framing and explaining events. Paradigm again influences the interpretive range a learner is willing or able to entertain.

4. Planning enables taking the new understanding and translating it into predictions about what is likely to happen next or what actions should be taken to refine the way the task is handled.

From Wikipedia,  "Social learning refers to the acquisition of social competence that happens exclusively or primarily in a social group. Social learning depends on group dynamics. Social learning promotes the development of individual emotional and practical competence as well as the perception of oneself and the acceptance of others with their individual competencies and limitations.

Educator Lynda Abbott writes, "Social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another, including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. Among others Albert Bandura is considered the leading proponent of this theory." (see http://teachnet.edb.utexas.edu/~lynda_abbott/social.html )

Social learning emphasizes how we model things for each other. Peer learning offers the opportunity to observe and learn from other professionals as they work and reflect upon their work. The social aspects help peer learners establish and build their professional identity. The connections made provide ongoing resources and support to and for each other.

What about children?


What Peer Learning is NOT!

There are many ways we learn. Not all of them involve peers. But if you get creative, just about any solo learning experience can become peer learning. All you have to do is invite in at least one other person.

For example, self pace learning modules that rely solely on sequenced content is not peer learning. UNLESS you do it with someone else. Listening to a recorded webinar is not peer learning,  but the fact that  someone else took the time to make previous interactions available to others is an indication of relationship and accountability to others - to peers - for learning.  Teams are dedicated to completing a shared task in a specific time. But along the way, they can learn together.

The bottom line? We each know a lot. When we make that available to each other through both interactions and the artifacts of our interactions (summaries, blog posts, recordings) we all learn. That's peer learning!

Related Approaches

There are many terms and approaches that involve peers learning with and from peers. Some of them are very specific types of peer interactions. It is helpful to have some sense of these approaches. You may choose to use one or more of them in your work. Below is a short description of each one with a link to either a one-page overview or to an existing external resource on the approach. (Our goal here is not to reinvent things, but to make them easy to find and use!)

  • Informal Learning
    • Conner, Marcia L. "Informal Learning." 1997-2009.
      http://www.marciaconner.com/intros/informal.html "Informal learning" describes a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes,values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educational influences and resources in his or her environment, from family and neighbors, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.:"
    • From Jay Cross a short You Tube Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlETGJ0mnno (10 minutes Maybe not so short!)

  • Personal Board of Directors
    • http://www.schaefersblog.com/create-a-personal-board-of-directors-part-i/
    • http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/looking-out.html

  • Self Help Groups/Support Groups
    • From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Support_group "In a support group,members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and non material, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences,listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks."
  • Brookfield, Stephen (1995) Adult Learning: An Overview in in A. Tuinjman (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, Pergamon Press. http://www.fsu.edu/~elps/ae/download/ade5385/Brookfield.pdf Accessed 2/19/10
  • Cooper, Marie A., O'Donnell, Angela M. (Ed); King, Alison (Ed). (1999). Cognitive perspectives on peer learning. The Rutgers Invitational Symposium On Education Series. (pp. 215-233). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Departament of Education and Training. Evaluation of Professional Learning. Northem Territory Governenment. http://www.det.nt.gov.au/education/professional_learning/docs/evaluation_of_prof_learning.pdf
  • Hourihan, M. (2002) What We're Doing When We Blog? Available at http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/javascript/2002/06/13/megnut.html
  • Ormrod, J.E. (1999). Human learning (3rd ed.). UpperSaddle River, NJ:Prentice-Hall.
  • Reushle, Shirley (2005) Inquiry into a transformative approach to professional development for online educators. Thesis (_PhD/Research) (Unpublished)http://eprints.usq.edu.au/1494/ Accessed February 2/19/10
  • Siemens, G. (2008) Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers. Presented to ITFORUM for Discussion. Available at http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper105/Siemens.pdfhttp://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/Paper105/Siemens.pdf

Peer Learning Resources

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