Learning from Peers
24 January 2019

Personal development – peer-to-peer learning – peer knowledge

When people want to learn a skill, turning to colleagues for help is often the first thing they do. And that’s a great way to do it. Acquiring knowledge from colleagues is very well suited to the way people learn. We absorb skills and knowledge; practice by applying them; get feedback; and think about what has been learned. Learning from our colleagues encompasses all of these.

The degree to which a learner will develop new skills will depend on his or her willingness to make mistakes, challenge ideas, and question concerns. Unlike some learning methods peer learning creates an opportunity where the learner can feel safe taking these risks without a sense that their manager is evaluating their performance while they are learning. You’re more likely to have honest conversations about areas you need to develop with a colleague than with someone who has control over your career. Peer learning provides a structured framework to have these discussions.

Peer learning helps employees develop management and leadership skills. Group reflection conversations help employees grasp the challenging skills of giving and accepting honest, constructive feedback. Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is helpful and meaningful. They think from the perspective of their peer, consider where each is coming from, and try to be specific about what will be most helpful and constructive. This doesn’t happen as often when a manager delivers one-way feedback to employees. Similarly, peer learning gives employees experience in leadership, handling different points of view, and developing skills such as empathy.

How can you make peer learning successful for your team? Here are some tips.

Have someone neutral who is not the team’s manager facilitate the learning process to keep it on track. This person should organise sessions, keep everyone focussed on the topic, keep conversations moving forward, and maintain a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.

Inter-colleague learning only works when participants feel safe enough to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions. They need to be open and vulnerable enough to accept constructive input, and also have the courage to give honest feedback rather than telling people what they want to hear.

Set ground rules to build a safe environment. For example, confidentiality must be respected; feedback should be perceived as a helpful gesture that should always be met with appreciation; participants should put themselves in others’ shoes; and participants should never be laughed at or embarrassed for expressing themselves in front of their colleagues.

This type of learning works best if learners have genuine problems to solve. People are more likely to participate, learn, and remember new skills if they are learned in the course of addressing a real-life challenge.

Create online social networks supporting the learning. Organise networking events for people to discuss their area of expertise and establish learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas.

A good peer-to-peer learning framework complements more traditional learning processes and, your team will build lasting skills and relationships that will allow them to bring the skills they learn into their daily work.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2023 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.