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Day 4 – Productive Peer Learning

On the 4th day of AP-py Christmas we bring you a case study on the effective use of peer learning courtesy of Jason Tsai (jtsai@lincolncollege.ac.uk):

Peer Learning

“Peer learning essentially refers to students learning with and from each other as fellow learners without any implied authority to any individual.” – They learn a great deal through explaining their ideas, knowledge, or experience to others by participating in activities in which they convey information and exchange views with and learn from their peers.

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How peer learning was used in teaching and its effectiveness

Peer learning was used in my Anatomy and Physiology (year 1), and Pathophysiology (year 2) lectures at our weekend block teaching for the Herbal Medicine programme, and in the Anatomy and Physiology (year 1) and Pathophophysiology (year 2) of the Acupuncture course.

At the beginning of the class, I explained to the students the topic and content of the lecture and the learning outcomes. Students were then divided into several groups, each being given a different task. A period of thirty minutes was given for them to complete their tasks. Students in each group searched for information, read it, understood it, discussed it within the group, and then presented and explained it to the whole class.

After each class I asked every single student to give me the feedback of peer learning. Students unanimously enjoyed the delivery of the lecture. They also found they could search for more information and learn more.

When peer learning was first used in my class, it was not very effective although students enjoyed the session and expressed their positive views. Thanks to the suggestion and support from Dave Horsfield, and through practice, I have implemented it with confidence and this practice has become more and more effective.

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Tips to implement peer learning in classroom

Although peer learning is a very good mode of learning and students do learn more, it would take much longer time for students to explain the information they have searched and learnt and therefore classes can be held slow. Thus, preparation and some tips may be able to make peer learning more effective and efficient.

  1. Preparation before the class starts. I always ask the students to read through the lecture notes and power point slides available on moodle before they come to the class;
  2. Structured tasks help and guide the learners. Content of the lecture is divided into several tasks, each consisting of several clear items to guide the learners what to look at so that learning outcomes are met;
  3. Clear lecture notes and electronic devices such as iPad, laptop, and textbooks are all essential instrument to assist student to search for information. It may also be important that some websites are provided for students who need more support and do not know where to start;
  4. The use of learning platforms such as Padlet can save time. Rearranging students to form a new group to conduct peer learning may be helpful for them to explain information more effectively;
  5. Various types of assessment to evaluate how much the students have learnt and a good means to summarise the lecture is a good method to employ.

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How peer learning has helped the learners

Peer learning helps students tremendously and there are several advantages, the main ones being:

  1. Peer learning not only ensures students to learn all the content of the topic, but also stretches their knowledge by delve deeper into the area according to their learning pace and research interests;
  2. It provides students with good opportunity to know how search for pertinent information/literature from reliable sources. Students also gradually gain experience in organising all the information they have found;
  3. It helps students to work independently and share their knowledge and move into interdependent learning;
  4. Peer learning provides a fantastic platform for students to demonstrate and practise their presentation skills and enhance these skills through peer observation;
  5. Through this mode of delivery, students develop their communication skills and overcome their stage fright so that their performance will not be compromised. It maintains or even boost staff-student and student-student interaction, and some students can gain more support from staff or peers.

Further reading

Gwee, M. C. E (2003) Peer learning: Enhance student learning outcomes. http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/success/sl13.htm

O’Mahony, J. and Outram, S. (2014) Making the transition to peer-led learning. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/peer_learning_workshop_presentation.pdf

Keenan, C. (2014) Mapping Student-led Peer Learning in the UK. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/peer_led_learning_keenan_nov_14-final.pdf

Boud, D., Cohen, R. and Sampson, J. (2013) Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning from and with Each Other. Routlege.

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