How do K-12 teachers facilitate effective learning? The best teachers do more than just read from a textbook. They understand that there are many different techniques, theories, and teaching models that can give students a well-rounded education that’s foundational to a lifetime of success and continual improvement.
Effective learning happens in many ways. Some students learn well directly from a teacher. Others are skilled independent learners. Yet, one of the most effective active learning techniques is that of peer learning. Put simply, peer learning is when students teach each other. This type of learning aids retention and encourages communication and collaboration.
Learn more about peer learning and how a teaching degree from WGU can prepare you to make a difference in the classroom.
Peer learning is an education method that helps students solidify their knowledge by teaching each other. One student tutoring another in a supervised environment can result in better learning and retention. Why? Because to teach another, one must first fully understand a concept themselves. Verbalizing a concept and sharing the information with a peer serves to reinforce the knowledge gained.
Constructivist learning suggests that knowledge is constructed by each individual student. The new concepts they learn are built upon their existing knowledge and beliefs. Constructivism also proposes that learning is an active process and a social activity. These concepts tie in well with peer learning.
Next, there’s Connectivism. Introduced in 2005 by George Siemens, the Connectivism Learning Theory focuses on technology as a critical component of connected learning. Today’s social networks allow rapid information transfer, but not every piece of information is equally helpful or enriching. Siemens suggests that being able to distinguish between important and unimportant information is vital. Even young students today are connected to the world and to each other through online means. An understanding of connectivism is especially helpful for K-12 teachers in the digital age.
To thrive in school, in the workplace, and in society, individuals must be able to learn from others and work with them to achieve mutual success. Below are even more reasons why peer learning is important.
Teamwork: Peer learning fosters teamwork, cooperation, patience, and better social skills. In a cooperative peer learning environment, each student’s strengths can serve to complement the group and enhance learning. Becoming skilled at working with and learning from one's peers can start at a young age in the classroom.
Better Feedback: Often, students are not able to recognize the gaps in their own knowledge. But when they learn with their peers, they can see new processes for answering questions and come up with creative, collaborative solutions. Importantly, they will carry these new perspectives, as well as a willingness to seek and accept feedback, with them as they progress in their education.
Supports Diversity: Peer learning fosters diversity and depth in a student’s knowledge and opinions. Learning from peers of different backgrounds, views, and ethnicities fosters an environment of mutual respect, gratitude, and progress. It’s the differences between students that add a richness to the learning environment. Supporting diversity through peer learning is part of culturally responsive teaching.
It’s hard to number all the benefits of peer learning, but some of them include new perspectives, more social interaction, and deepened personal learning. See more information on these specific areas below.
New Perspectives for Students: If a student learns exclusively from the teacher, they may only gain one new perspective. Learning from their peers can add numerous helpful perspectives, nuances, and layers to a student’s knowledge.
Social Interaction Makes Studying Fun: By nature, humans are social beings. We long to make connections and be part of a group. The added element of social interaction in peer learning can be exciting and enriching. Students who may be hesitant to interact with the teacher may be more willing to open up to their peers.
Teaching Others Helps Students Learn: Nothing requires you to feel confident in your own knowledge quite like teaching what you know to someone else. As mentioned, peer learning can help students learn and solidify their own knowledge. Effective teaching requires a deeper level of knowledge on a subject.
While there are many benefits to peer learning, there are also some drawbacks, including distraction and lack of respect for feedback.
Working in Groups Can Be Distracting: Learning from your peers can be exciting. However, especially for younger students, that excitement can lead to distraction. When working with their friends, some students can easily get off track, misbehave, and focus on anything but learning.
Students Might Not Respect the Feedback of Their Peers: If a teacher gives feedback, the student is more likely to listen carefully. After all, the teacher is the authority in the classroom and the resident expert on the subject being taught. On the other hand, if one’s peer gives them feedback, it’s easier to disregard it.
Effective peer learning can take place through many different models and strategies. See some of the tried-and-true ways to encourage peer learning.
Proctor Model: In the proctor model, an older or more experienced student teaches a younger or less experienced peer. In an elementary school, this might mean that students from a higher grade level come and teach kindergarteners. It could also entail having a more skilled student within the class teach their classmate.
Discussion Seminars: Discussion seminars are more common at the university level. They’re often held after students learn the material through a lecture or a weekly reading. Through these discussions, students deepen their knowledge and gain additional perspectives.
Peer Support Groups: Sometimes referred to as private study groups, peer support groups are student-led gatherings that are generally held outside of class without teacher support. Peers might meet up to study for a test together or complete a group project.
Peer Assessment Schemes: Peer assessment schemes can be common in writing courses. For instance, an AP English Language teacher might have students read one another’s essays to provide informal feedback.
Collaborative Projects: Assigning students to work on collaborative projects can serve them well for their future endeavors in the workplace and society. These projects teach collaboration, the importance of combining skills, and the need to meet deadlines.
Cascading Groups: Cascading groups is a learning method by which students are split into groups that get either progressively larger or smaller. For instance, students might be encouraged to learn about a distinct topic on their own and then share it with a partner. That partnership would then share their knowledge with another partnership and so forth.
Mentoring: A mentor is someone who has experience in a certain area. They guide a student, training them and teaching them the lessons they once had to learn. Peer tutoring is a form of mentoring. Sometimes students who require extra support are assigned a personal peer mentor who works one-on-one with them to help them succeed.
Reciprocal Teaching: In reciprocal teaching, students must develop the skills of questioning, predicting, summarizing, and clarifying. They teach one another using these techniques. They serve to form a sort of scaffolding for peer-led learning.
Jigsaw Method: In the jigsaw method of peer learning, students are split into groups, with each group given a different topic to study. Then, one student from each group is taken to form a collaborative group where multiple concepts are discussed. If there are eight jigsaw groups, then eight topics will ultimately be discussed in one group.
Peer learning is an effective way to facilitate deep learning. It also lends itself to many different approaches. The power of a classroom where students come together is that of collaborative learning. Teachers who implement peer learning strategies in their classroom may see higher levels of student performance, satisfaction, and overall engagement.
If you’re ready to learn new teaching methods and prepare to make a difference in the classroom, check out the WGU Teachers College. The programs help teachers learn up-to-date teaching methods for the modern learning environment.