Peer Learning in Classrooms and Its Benefits
IT PROVIDES STUDENTS OPPORTUNITIES TO CONSTRUCT AND ASSIMILATE THEIR OWN MEANING AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONCEPTS BY INTERACTING WITH OTHERS AND LEARNING FROM OTHERS’ VIEWS
“There’s something about being in the presence of another human being that drives human learning,” says Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington. This phenomenon can be termed as social facilitation in learning, a tendency to perform differently when in the presence of others than when alone. Learning in the company of others has been known to increase motivation and help one to focus on the learning objectives, since it provides a social context to learn about various concepts. According to Prof. Kuhl, our species is hardwired to work together, and therefore, classroom activities should include collaboration and teamwork to enhance learning.
“There’s something about being in the presence of another human being that drives human learning,”
The traditional lecture mode makes students passive learners, who are often unable to apply their learning for practical purposes. This kind of learning promotes memorisation and regurgitation of facts, and makes the students highly dependent on the teachers for their learning needs. One approach that is gaining popularity and can help maximise learning outcomes is peer learning, which involves studying in groups to promote active interaction among students.
Peer learning, as John Dewey has mandated in his definition of education, involves an active and constructivist process, wherein students are given opportunities to construct and assimilate their own meaning and understanding of the concepts by interacting with others and learning from others’ views. Successful peer learning activities include group projects where small groups of students research, collect and analyse data, apply and integrate their findings in real-world situations, and evaluate the extent of their understanding based on mutual assent and cooperative roles. Learning happens in a more informal manner, with free flow of ideas and learners putting their heads together to solve real problems.
Peer learning is most effective if it is incorporated in the curriculum as an integral component, which helps in building a conducive environment for a cooperative classroom experience by fostering mutual respect and trust in all learners. This enables them to express their ideas, experiment and help each other freely in order to meet similar learning goals. Thus students learn through intellectual, social and emotional engagement— by talking to and questioning each other’s ideas and reaching a mutual consensus regarding the problem at hand— as if they are a part of a bigger organisation, where each of them have an important role to play.
Several institutions across the world, especially those disseminating higher education, already work on the peer-learning model, engaging students in group discussions and seminars, group presentations, workshops and activities, and even group research work. In K–12 institutions, however, the approach has not become commonplace, except for countries such as the US, Australia, Finland, South Korea and China. Peer learning can be implemented in various ways, according to the course instructors of Design 39 Campus, a K–8 school in San Diego, California, which has successfully implemented peer learning in all possible spheres of learning:
- Peer instruction: It is a teaching technique that requires the learner to apply the core concepts in a real-world scenario and then teach the concepts to a fellow or younger student. This method helps learners organise the information on the concepts better and bridge their own learning gaps while teaching their peers.
- Pairing and sharing: This is a method where students form pairs to ponder on a particular problem, or part of a problem. They reflect on possible solutions or brainstorm ideas and discuss with each other, and share their collective thoughts on the topic with the rest of the class. This enables a deeper understanding of the topic from various perspectives which are otherwise ignored in the lecture mode of learning.
- Group study activity: In case of bigger areas of study, such as chapter-level learning, students can form groups, in which they have different topics to study. Then they can be asked to present their findings, fostering both chapter-level expertise by interconnection of concepts, and concept-level expertise by synthesising the various perspectives on a single concept.
- Cooperative learning roles: Roleplay is another effective way of implementing peer learning. In this activity, groups of 4–5 students are formed, with each group having students in specific roles such as the Scribe, the Inquirer, the Speaker and the Manager. Each group is given a specific problem to solve within a given time. The Scribe notes down everything that is discussed by the group, the Inquirer asks questions about the problem to the teacher,the Manager keeps track of what work has been done, and the Speaker presents the group’s findings in front of the class. All the students jointly figure out the solution in an organised manner, and the teacher observes and evaluates the interactions, thereby facilitating learning.
- Flipped classroom model: Another popular way of implementing peer learning is by introducing the concept to be learned beforehand through online study materials or handouts. Students will have a basic knowledge on the concept and the teacher can drive the discussion on the finer points of the topic, which promotes critical thinking and deep learning.
- Peer assessment: Peer assessment is an evaluation activity where the students assess and evaluate the performance of their peers, instead of teachers. This not only saves the teacher’s time, but also benefits the assessor and assessee in various ways. There is scope for better feedback when students are assessing each other in groups, which often gets neglected by the teachers because of their huge workload. It also helps in correcting mistakes on both sides, and students will learn to complete assignments more accurately.
Peer learning is of immense help for 21st-century learners because it lays the foundation for applying self-learning methods. It builds qualities such as critical-thinking and problem-solving, along with improving teamwork abilities through communication and collaboration. Apart from increasing the ability to retain more information, it helps learners acquire management skills such as planning, organising and decision-making, which can help them throughout their career. Moreover, it can help in making the learning process more effective in schools where the student-teacher ratio is high, since dependency on teachers is minimum.
K–12 classrooms in developing countries such as India are yet to become familiar with this collaborative effort in learning, but it has made some headway via activity-based learning and project-based learning. Most schools in the country have a high student-teacher ratio, and the prevalent traditional modes of learning do not enhance 21st-century skills in students. Therefore, in this scenario, promoting peer learning is one of the ways to ensure better learning.