Peer learning isn't a gossip sesh
Think back to the morning of the geography exam. You had stayed up the whole night, memorizing chapter after chapter. And you figured that you'd look at the maps on the way to school in the bus. In the bus, your friends told you tricks to remember what point to mark on the map. And the tricks worked.
Now what if we said this is exactly what peer learning means? Peer learning is nothing more than students learning by explaining their ideas to others. It benefits not only the student who learns from a friend, but also benefits the student who explains the concept. In the process of explaining something to a friend, the concept becomes clearer to the one explaining it too.
Peer learning is nothing but a "mode of learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything."
Sometimes peer learning can be better than teacher based learning
Peer learning isn't a substitute for learning from a teacher. It is meant to complement traditional methods of teaching.
But there are some aspects where peer learning wins. In a classroom with a teacher present, students often don't ask their doubts freely for fear of being judged or seeming foolish. Remember the time you didn't clear your doubt from the teacher, but whispered your question to your partner in class?
In a group with their peers, students speak more freely. They ask all their questions and get their doubts cleared from each other.
In a class, students often seek validation from their teacher. They want to be told by the teacher, "you're on the right path". But in a group, they don't have an authority figure to go to for answers. They must figure it out on their own.
So they research, they connect the dots, come up with new ideas and by discussing with each other, they come to a conclusion. They make a judgement based on the knowledge they have gathered. There is no spoonfeeding by the teacher. So they learn to think.
Peer learning is a masterclass in life skiils
Every group has that one person who organizes everything and makes notes. Then there is the person who comes up with the crazy ideas. There is also one person who knows the best way to give feedback. And every group has one person who is a slacker and needs an extra push to contribute.
But when students work in teams, they learn to collaborate with each other. They learn to organize their thoughts and manage their time. They figure out the best way to talk to each other and work with each other. Because their personal success is dependent on the team's success.
One of the most valuable lessons from peer learning is to take charge of your own learning. Students learn to learn. These practical skills are valuable for a lifetime and come especially in handy in workspaces.
How peer learning works
There are many peer learning strategies. Teachers could break up the class into groups for discussion or give a group project.
A student led class is also an example of peer learning. It could be a senior student teaching a junior class, or students from the same year teaching their class.
Students often form study groups to revise concepts learnt in class or classmates tutor each other in a subject of their choice.
Peer learning isn't new. And it takes place even without trying. But what if we make an extra effort to make it happen?
At Openhouse, our classes have just 15 students so that they can interact with each other and get to know one another. In group projects and in our clubs, they learn from each other and very often, that's the best part of their experience at Openhouse.