Emergency response and future focus
The last year has forced many higher education institutes to adopt online modes of learning for students, as an emergency response to the pandemic. Of course, some higher education institutions have been offering entirely online learning provision for decades, but many have not. For those who pivoted to online delivery, it is now important to reflect and consolidate the valuable learning that has emerged from the emergency response phase, when considering longer term provision. Just because something has been adopted in response to an emergency situation – it does not mean that quality student learning has not been supported. Many higher education institutes who have historically offered face to face student learning are now considering a hybrid future.
Results of national surveys questioning students on the online provision have found that many students have found online learning useful but have also found that students have sometimes felt that they are isolated and that they are learning alone. A solution may exist to support a feeling of connectedness to help support and navigate a hybrid future. Face-to-face peer learning has been reported widely in the literature, with multiple benefits to students, but the principles of this learning can be translated to the online provision. Within the online learning environment, a well-planned and designed learning experience is crucial.
To encourage engagement in any learning it is important to have anchors for the students to focus on, and this becomes even more important for online learning. The learning outcomes provide this anchor and need to be explicit to all students. Roles and responsibilities of the students need to be clearly articulated and agreed, to facilitate full participation and to maximise the potential of the peer learning process
Peer to peer learning
Peer to peer learning can be in pairs or in groups, where students at the same stage of learning work together on a common task. The benefits of peers working together at the same stage of learning is that they can ask each other “silly questions” and confirm their understanding in a way that would not necessarily be possible with an academic member of staff. Feedback from students that I have worked with using the peer to peer learning is that it is a “safe learning space” to explore understanding and to facilitate a more in-depth exploration and questioning of their learning. Peer learning can offer more accessible learning for some students, with time to question and consolidate learning via their peers. Peer learning encourages the ethos that every student has something to add, and active participation in their learning.
Peer assisted learning?
An alternative model of peer learning is peer assisted learning, when a more experienced student mentors a less experienced student mentee. This has benefits for all concerned too. The more experienced students can consolidate previous learning by supporting less experienced students, whilst developing wider employability attributes. The less experienced students being mentored by the more experienced students benefit by the authenticity of a mentor who has been there and done the learning recently, and as with the peer to peer learning, offers a “safe space” for questioning and confirmation of understanding that may not always be possible with academics.
Peer assessment can be built into the either of the models of peer leaning which further develops attributes and skills for students over and above the typical core learning outcomes of the academic curriculum.
Impact on employability
Some key employability attributes can be developed through peer learning.
Communication is a crucial employability attribute and working with peers supports the development of communication skills, that can be further enhanced through the learning activities that are set for the students to work through. Click here to view Advance HE's #52etc
Co-operation and collaboration are key interpersonal skills to be able to demonstrate when working in teams within the workplace. Learning with peers requires co-operation and collaboration to work together towards the learning outcomes.
Confidence can be built when working with peers – either reassurance from realising that peers are at the same stage of learning as you, or confidence with the mentors as to how much learning they have achieved that they can share with the mentees.
Supervisory and leadership skills can be developed by the mentors through supporting and guiding the mentee through their learning.
Peer learning for online placements
Peer learning is not restricted to the delivery of the curriculum but can also be embedded into the provision of peer assisted placements or online placements such as the Peer Enhanced e-Placement (PEEP) that I have reported previously, demonstrating the wide benefits to the peer enhanced nature of online placement delivery with the peer group learning process built in to its design, anchored to the placement learning outcomes.
As with all modes of learning – reflection should be an integral part of learning. Reflection helps consolidation of learning and consideration how learning has impacted and will impact the individual moving forward in their learning journey, authentically supporting metacognition of the learning for the individual.
As we enter the post pandemic phase within higher education, many questions are being asked about how student learning can be best supported - with hybrid models potentially being the future for higher education. Peer learning models offer students a supportive learning experience that can be delivered online, addressing some of the concerns about feeling alone when learning online.
Could online peer learning models be your bridge to delivering a quality and supportive online learning environment to maximise the potential of hybrid curriculum provision?
Dr Lisa Taylor SFHEA is Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy in the School of Health Sciences and Associate Dean for Employability for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, at the University of East Anglia, UK. Lisa is passionate about employability and learning innovation and publishes and presents extensively.
Employability webinar and summits
Our upcoming employability events will offer colleagues an opportunity to reflect on recent innovations in teaching practice and employability support within Higher Education.
Employability: A Review of the Literature 2016-2021 is part of the Connect Benefit Series - Student success along with a series of supporting podcasts.
Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: Enterprise and Entrepreneurship – A guide to the Advance HE Framework for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education is available for Advance HE members to download.
Find out more about the Connect Benefit Series during 2021-22 here.