Peer learning is a form of active, cooperative learning used for college level instruction. Fundamentally, peer learning is built off of the role of social interaction (discussion or dialogue) and takes it one step further and places the student in the role of being a peer teacher, either formally or informally. In this teaching approach, some type of a two-way, reciprocal learning activity is designed for students to learn from each other by addressing misconceptions and clarifying misunderstandings. Typically, students explain their thoughts and ideas to each other, discuss concepts, or find solutions to problems. This process forces them to think through their arguments and to assess their own understanding of the concepts being taught.
How to Use Peer Learning
The following are some of the ways this teaching approach is used to engage students:
- discussion groups (synchronous and asynchronous in class and online)
- social media such as Yammer
- preplanned, intermittent, brief discussions in the classroom such as the following:
Stump your partner
- Students create a difficult question based on the lecture content.
- Pose the question to the person sitting next to you.
- Adaptation: Ask students to write their questions and hand them in or list them electronically with a tool like padlet. These questions can be used to create assessments or reviews for student understanding.
- Potential for use with response systems or polling.
- Ask a question that requires students to use higher order thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation, or synthesis.
- Students briefly think about a response.
- Students turn to a partner (or small groups) and share their thoughts. (Adaptation: Ask students to find someone who arrived at an answer different from their own and convince their partner to change their mind.)
- Responses are shared with the whole class during a followup discussion.
- Stop at a transition point in your lecture.
- Have students turn to a partner or work in small groups to compare notes and ask clarifying questions.
- After a few minutes, open the floor to a few questions.
- Students work in groups of three to debate a topic among their small group.
- Each student is assigned a role. One person debates pro and the other debates con; the third plays the role of scribe, then decides which side is most convincing and argues his or her choice.
- Wrap up by calling on a few groups to summarize their discussions.
- Adaptation: This activity can be done virtually as well.
Impact on Learning
- Better learning: According to research, instructional activities that are social, contextual, and engaging lead to deeper learning.
- Employability skills: Peer learning encourages students to work effectively with others in small groups or teams, practice interpersonal communication, and consider diverse thought.
- Efficient teaching: Through the use of technology, students can interact in ways that could only be done previously through costly tutorial sessions directed by teaching staff in a physical location. Students, instructors, and teaching assistants can now virtually engage in formal and informal discussion, review and analysis of ideas, and critical review of related literature, and practice sharing independent views. These interactions can easily be shared with the broader learning community.
Some forms of peer learning are informal and less inclined to be used as a graded activity, such as think-pair-share. However, often these less informal approaches can be used for as a form of summative assessment, basically “taking the temperature” of the class as a whole regarding how well they seem to understand a particular concept. Often, polling or clickers (response systems) are used in conjunction with these activities to determine where the class stands as a whole before and after the peer learning activity.
Other forms of peer learning can easily be used for either summative or formative assessment. For example, regularly scheduled written discussion forums can be graded for level of student involvement and checked for comprehension. Rubrics are useful for providing evaluation expectations.
Peer Learning in Canvas
Canvas provides two easy options for peer review: peer review discussion and peer review assignments. Both types of peer reviews allow communication between students, helping students to learn from each other and to master the concepts covered in the course.
Peer review discussion
Through peer review discussions students can provide feedback on each other’s replies to class discussions. Peer reviews can only be added as part of a graded discussion. To learn more, go to How do I create a peer review discussion at https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-2812.
Peer review assignment
Through peer review assignments, students can provide feedback on each other’s assignment submissions. Peer reviews can be assigned to either show student names or be shared anonymously. To learn more, visit How do I create a peer review Assignment.
Yammer: Students in ACCTG 211: Financial and Managerial Accounting for Decision Making post questions and comments, and other students or their instruction team can respond. This has been found to help clarify concepts that students did not grasp from the assigned reading or course activities.
Sites: Students in APLNG 802: Focus on Instruction are required to post discussion blogs regularly in response to questions carefully constructed by the instructor, to generate a forum where students share their learning and real-world experiences with each other.
VoiceThread: Students in LDT 549: Current Topics in Emerging Technologies use VoiceThread for asynchronous peer discussion, allowing them to discuss the pros and cons of online innovations and their potential for creating systemic change in higher education.
Things to Consider
For successful implementation of peer learning, you should consider the following strategies:
- Peer learning works better in some courses than in others. Before implementing, evaluate the context in which the peer learning strategy is to be implemented, giving careful consideration to the educational philosophies found in the course.
- Be sure to align the use of peer learning strategies with some specific knowledge or skill that you want the learners to grasp.
- Provide support resources for faculty and students that give an overview of peer learning strategies and outline the different roles and responsibilities for using a different learning approach.
- Like any learning approach, the strategies used should be aligned with the assessment tasks.
Carmichael, Stephen W., Aaron J. Krynch, Crystal N. March, Wojciech Pawlina, Ben J. Peake, and Ross E. Bryan. “Reciprocal Peer Teaching: Students Teaching Students in the Gross Anatomy Laboratory.” Clinical Anatomy 18, no. 4 (2005): 296301. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15832347.
Cohen, Ruth and Jane Sampson. “Designing Peer Learning.” In Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning from & with Each Other 2001, 2134. London: Kogan Page, 2001. http://www.herdsa.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/conference/1999/pdf/Sampson.PDF.
Lasry, Nathaniel, Eric Mazur, and Jessica Watkins. “Peer Instruction: From Harvard to the Two-Year College.” American Journal of Physics, 76 no. 11 (2008): 1066-1069. http://mazur.harvard.edu/sentFiles/Mazur_61464.pdf.