Classrooms may be a more familiar ground for the term ‘peer learning’, where the concept has had nearly a century to develop and evolve. With peer learning students will, either through structured classroom time or in groups use their understanding of a topic to help teach concepts to other students, thereby collectively pooling their group knowledge.
Paulo Freire, described traditional teaching methods as a relationship between educators and students in which students are empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge. Through peer learning he believed that a different and more equal relationship was developed between students and teachers and the sharing of knowledge among peers put information into a stronger context. This process can drive more critical thinking and questioning of ideas, as well as better knowledge retention.
So what are the best ways to bring peer learning into the workplace?
There are several business education consulting companies that have embraced peer learning as their focus in the effort to grow businesses. Skillshare, allows people to design their own classes online for a local or global audience, which allows people who have practical experience in a subject to teach it at a practical level.
If one member of your team is an exemplary salesperson, for example, she could design a course for everyone else in the company on the best ways to increase sales in their specific market. Her knowledge about the challenges and opportunities her colleagues face can provide a specific training course instead of simply using a general, off the shelf, training course. This effort may also provide development opportunities for a sales person who may be interested in a future managerial role or a lateral move into training.
Another company, MentorMob, takes the musical concept of playlists and turns it into a learning tool—a “learning playlist”, as they call it, which organizes useful information conceptually instead of letting people looking for information fall victim to the popularity-based availability and presentation of information offered when searching the internet.
These learning playlists are curated by the MenterMob community, which compiles, rates, and edits the information gathered to create the most helpful and accurate collection of material.
Within your company, you can use this method to involve your employees in their own training: instead of just putting them through professional development conferences where they may not engage, or having mandatory online company webinars that they may put off until the last minute. Directing employees in curating playlists of information themselves allows them to contribute and therefore take ownership of their own learning. This makes them much more invested in the learning process—after all, they created it themselves.
Besides personal investment in learning, what else can peer learning contribute towards making your business more productive? Daniel Pink, author and management theorist, highlights the research of Kyle Emich and Evan Polman that demonstrates how people are better at solving the problems of others than they are at solving their own problems, through presenting a large group with a theoretical problem.
Half the group tried to solve the problem as if they were experiencing it; the other half tried solve it as if someone else was. Fewer than half of the people in the first group were able to find an answer; while more than two-thirds thought of one in the latter group.
Abstract thinking, in this experiment and in other research, can be more productive than personal consideration. Establishing peer learning groups in your company can structure your employees to best solve problems, because they have the opportunity to develop effective solutions to colleagues’ problems, and when they find their own efforts stalled, they have the resource of other people to gain some more perspective and find an answer they would not have thought of themselves.
How can you utilize peer learning and training in your company to make your employees a network of information and education rather than just independent members catching whatever training comes their way?
Image credit: The Stock Exchange (www.sxc.hu) User: igoghost