Is Peer Group Learning More Effective Than Traditional Teaching

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peer groupPeer group learning is a form of cooperative learning that emphasises the interaction between students and mentors who have a common interest and/or shared knowledge about a particular topic or concern. One of the unique qualities of peer group learning is that it often benefits the student participants and the mentor.

Mentors can choose from a number of teaching strategies. The framework for peer learning is usually described as “intellectual scaffolding.” The idea of intellectual scaffolding is to raise questions or issues that prompt individuals in the group towards sophisticated levels of thinking. The mentor and students participate in collaborative processes that are designed to keep all participants engaged and contributing.

There are several types of strategies but four core strategies are usually used for peer learning.  

Buzz groups – Buzz groups are large groups of students divided into smaller groups of 4-5 students that consider issues surrounding a problem. Discussions are focused and last about 20 minutes. One member of each group presents the determinations from their group to the entire group.

Affinity groups – Affinity groups consist of 4-5 students. Each group receives a relevant assignment from the mentor. The group works independently and presents their findings at the next formal meeting of the larger group.

Solution and critic groups – In this strategy, a designated group from within the larger group receives an assignment. The group makes a presentation to the larger group who serves as the critics of the presentation. The larger group’s purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses of the sub-group’s findings and solutions to a problem in which the larger group has interest.

Teach-write-discuss – In this strategy, individual students receive questions that have been addressed during the instruction period. After responding to each question, the student must justify his or her answer. After each student has answered their questions, a whole-group exercise examines the answers, which are subjected to debate.

Tools of Peer Group Learning

  • Common tools of peer group learning are:
  • Critique sessions
  • Role-playing
  • Debates
  • Case study research and discussion
  • Integrated projects
  • Other exciting and effective teaching strategies

These tools are designed to lift student enthusiasm and encourage peer learning. Students and the mentor are encouraged to interact in a free debate environment. One of the great benefits is that participants learn to communicate ideas in a constructive, concise and coherent manner. Many times the mentor and the group are observed and evaluated by an outside mentor.

Identified Benefits of Peer Learning

Research has identified several direct benefits for students and businesses in peer learning environments. The most recognizable benefits are:

  • Team-building spirit
  • More supportive relationships
  • Greater psychological well-being
  • More social competence
  • Communication skills
  • Greater self-esteem
  • Higher achievement levels
  • Greater productivity
  • Increased retention
  • Exploration of new ideas
  • Increase in informal, off the job learning
  • Greater mentoring skills

Peer learning has the unique distinction that the mentor and students are engaged in the learning experience. For most effective results and independent, third party mentor is deployed to observe, note and critique progress of the groups. The independent mentor can ensure that all participants are active in the learning experience. Slacking is not permitted.

Peer learning also has the benefit of being extremely cost-effective. Students and mentors like the versatility of the learning experience. Classes are less formal but very productive.

Peer group mentors believe that learning in this environment helps students understand, implement and sustain creative solutions to real-life challenges. Enthusiasm is surprisingly high and the team confidence increases dramatically. Participants are much less hesitant to interact and work together to progressive solutions. In a world where collaboration has become a key to success, every business can benefit from this experience.

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