Peer learning sucks…

Post by Angela Clarke.

Image via athenazoe.wordpress.com

When you don’t set it up right.  Poorly facilitated peer learning leads to frustration and disillusionment for students and teachers alike, both blaming the other for a lousy learning experience.

I have heard it said that peer learning is something that happens outside of class and should be left up to students, after all isn’t the purpose of peer learning to encourage self-direction?

Well yes but problem is that self-direction needs to be nurtured, facilitated and fostered over time.  When students, particularly first years are left to their own devices to form peer study groups it is difficult for them to sustain meaningful learning experiences.

If you are keen to help students use their learner directed hours well through study groups then it is important for you to initiate this work in the first week by allowing time for them to form groups in class.  Touch base with whole group about how the study groups are going at least 3 times and let them know why you value peer learning.

Your attitude toward the work students do in study groups significantly impacts on how they engage with it.  Even seemingly benign comments like “I’m not interested in what you do in your study groups, it’s up to you” can undermine your intention.  Be interested in how they use their time, make loads of suggestions and link it to your assessment.

Using study group agreements is particularly helpful for students when issues arise, individuals don’t pull their weight or things don’t go as planned. I’ve attached an example from art and design.  Feel free to adapt for your purposes.  Again allow time in class for students to formulate a first draft of their agreement and discuss why you value this as a learning tool.

What’s your experience in using peer learning?

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