How to implement peer to peer learning in the workplace

June 10, 2021 - 14 min read

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What is peer to peer learning?

Reasons why you need a peer to peer organization

How to introduce peer training as a practice

Setting up a peer learning program: 7 steps

Future trends in peer learning

Peer to peer learning fosters employee growth

Peer to peer learning is a type of mutual learning and training strategy. It involves participants of the same level engaging in collaborative education.

Peer to peer learning is invaluable in many situations. 

While it's usually associated with classrooms, peer learning is also important at work. It creates an engaged workforce that is constantly developing their skills.

Here’s how to introduce peer to peer learning in the workplace and the many benefits of doing so. 

What is peer to peer learning?

peer-to-peer-learning-in-the-workplace-vs-a-classroom

Put simply, peer to peer learning is when one or more students (or coworkers) teach other students (or coworkers). 

Regardless of whether individuals are students or coworkers, people support each other throughout the learning process. It's important each learner is treated the same no matter their ability.

Peer learning in an educational environment

In an educational setting, students learn from other students, usually through group activities. Instead of a teacher explaining a concept, students engage with one another as equals.

Each student isn’t just responsible for learning what is being taught, but alsohelping fellow students learn through cooperative learning.

Peer learning in the work environment

Peer learning isn’t just for students at school or college. Colleagues at work can learn from each other through a peer to peer organization. In the same way that students teach each other, employees teach one another. 

As well as employees learning new skills, managers can also benefit. Peer training empowers managers to identify knowledge gaps within companies.

It’s important to note that peer learning is not a cut-and-dry concept. Any meaningful collaboration of peers at work can be considered peer learning. 

Reasons why you need a peer to peer organization

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According to The Expertise Economy, peer to peer learning taps into existing expertise

Employees' experiences and knowledge are one of the biggest assets to an organization. And this should be leveraged.

Think of all the knowledgeable and capable employees you hire and interact with on a daily basis. Now think about how much expertise their peers could gain if this knowledge was shared.

Peer learning is especially well-suited to the way humans learn new information.

It’s easier for us to learn new skills in an environment that includes the four key stages of the ‘Learning Loop’.

These stages are:

  • Gaining knowledge
  • Applying that knowledge
  • Receiving constructive feedback
  • Reflecting on skills and lessons learned

Peer to peer strategies cover all these stages, making for well-rounded and effective training.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect to see in a successful peer to peer organization: 

  • It encourages connectivity and collaboration. As peers interact with each other, they learn how to work together as a unit as opposed to individually. This develops into a positive workplace culture of sharing.
  • It can help to boost employee morale and well-being. Employees that help their colleagues learn and develop their skills boost self-confidence. This lends itself to an increased sense of belonging and connection.

Unfortunately, one out of four employees feels like they don't fit in. Fostering that sense of belonging in a peer to peer organization is crucial.

  • It can increase engagement. By being teachers, as opposed to just students, employees are more invested in an activity. Rather than taking directives, employees actively want to learn and teach others.
  • It can improve retention & productivity. Workplace learners can learn more efficiently when a peer provides support. Giving them more time to absorb knowledge can help them remember information.
  • It helps to ensure new employees feel comfortable. Connecting an experienced colleague with a new recruit helps them feel more integrated. The new hire can learn new aspects related to the job and organization seamlessly.
  • It provides a safe space to ask questions. Employees feel more freedom to challenge ideas with their peers. They are more likely to raise concerns with a colleague than with a manager or boss.
  • It reinforces employees’ existing knowledge. Many studies have shown the benefits of the learning-by-teaching effect. Colleagues who spend time teaching what they've learned have a better understanding too.

How to introduce peer training as a practice

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Peer training can happen in numerous parts of an employee’s job. Let’s take a look at how to introduce peer training as a practice in the workplace:

Peer training during onboarding

Onboarding is the first place where employees can participate in peer learning. Let’s look at three ways to implement peer training into onboarding:

  1. Assign a peer mentor or coach

Pair entry-level employees with a more experienced peer. Having a mentor can help new hires integrate smoothly into a company.

They can connect new employees with other colleagues to cultivate important workplace relationships.

  1. Use an onboarding platform

Give your new team member access to a collaborative onboarding learning platform. The platform should share everything from company culture to payroll information. 

Knowing the ins and outs of their new company will help new employees feel that they fit in. It’ll set them up for success and let them hit the ground running on their first day.

  1. Set up an online workgroup

Online workgroups allow employees, new and old, to create collaborative learning communities. 

These tools boost productivity by helping teams work together more efficiently. The best part is that knowledge is shared via one easily accessible platform.

Peer training in constant performance

You can implement peer training into employees’ day-to-day work lives. Let’s look at three ways to implement peer training in employees’ constant performance:

  1. Peer learning lunches

Also known as “learn at lunch” or “brown bag” events, lunches make for popular trends in peer training.

In these peer learning sessions, employees aren’t just gaining new information. They’re interacting with their peers in a relaxed, social environment. 

Because of their informality, employees are less intimidated and more open to sharing. In exchange for their participation, employees can look forward to a free lunch. It’s a win-win!

  1. Social learning tools

Social media isn't just for sharing and liking pictures of family and friends. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have immense social learning value in the workplace.

Facebook's own Workplace is a great tool for collaboration and fostering more interaction. It facilitates online group work, video conferencing, and resource sharing.

  1. Learning management systems (LMS)

Cloud technology enables peers to work remotely and collaborate together in real-time. Once uploaded, employees have unlimited access to the information they need.

Peer training during reviewing processes

Reviewing processes are a great learning opportunity for employees, and peer training helps to facilitate that. Let’s take a look at three ways to implement peer training during reviewing processes:

  1. Peer performance feedback

Peer reviews let employees gain a full understanding of their work and the work of their peers. More transparency and feedback adds insight that a manager might not be able to give.

  1. Group reflection conversations

Set aside time for teams and the peer to peer organization as a whole to assess their work, value, and beliefs. Group reflection helps employees build their emotional intelligence. 

  1. Continuous peer training sessions

Workshops run by experts outside the organization have their value. But ongoing peer interactions are where the real magic happens. 

Ask employees for their input on how they’d like to run the sessions and how often they’d like them to happen. 

Keep up to date with the latest trends in peer learning to keep your peer training sessions relevant and engaging.

Setting up a peer learning program: 7 steps

Here's how you can set up a peer learning program within the workplace and make sure it's successful in seven steps:

1. Nominate a peer learning facilitator

A facilitator will help the process run smoothly. They should keep the conversation flowing but not be directly involved. It’s important they stay neutral, and there is no authority associated with their role.

2. Create a safe environment to learn from each other

There's no good in setting up a peer training session if no one feels comfortable sharing. 

Everyone should feel they can speak up and share their experiences. Participants must feel safe to ask questions without feeling embarrassed.

Emphasize the importance of respectful communication. The facilitator can help set up a code of conduct. 

3. Set up networking events

Networking events aren't all about exchanging business cards. They can be a great source of new perspectives and ideas.

Set up happy hour meetups, industry seminars, or office mixers. These sharing events will help form trust and build connections amongst colleagues.

4. Pair seasoned employees with new recruits

Identify seasoned employees to create peer to peer learning content for new employees. It’ll give the newcomers a chance to learn their jobs hands-on and to integrate into the company.

5. Identify common reasons to learn from each other

Finding the commonality between experiences helps employees relate to one another.

Employees might be surprised to learn their colleague struggled with a similar problem. This drives a desire to learn how they overcame the issue.

6. Encourage diverse perspectives

Bringing together employees from different backgrounds fosters an open-minded, global company culture. This can make them better equipped to see situations from many perspectives.

7. Keep track of comprehension

Ask your peer learners for suggestions and feedback on the lessons they have learned. Make a note of learners’ consumption of the educational content. You can use this information to improve future peer training programs.

Future trends in peer learning

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In today's world, it's not viable for every employee to fend for themself. Gone are the days of each person being an island. 

The global pandemic has turned many of our worlds upside down. Pre-COVID-19, you may have discussed a project with your colleague at their desk. Or you'd hash out a problem over a bite to eat.

Unfortunately, many of us are now limited to Zoom calls. But we are still social creatures who crave that sense of community. Our desire to learn from others hasn't changed. 

What needs to change is the way we do it. 

New and actionable workforce skills are in high demand in the modern world. The rise of virtual teams means employees need new skills to get their work done.

The McKinsey Global Survey shows the urgency for addressing growing skills. 69% of organizations do more skill-building now than before the pandemic. 

This shows a growing need for effective and affordable educational approaches.

New trends in peer learning give employees the chance to learn from each other remotely and in person. This enhances skill transformation and promotes meaningful collaboration in the workplace.

Peer to peer learning fosters employee growth

Peer to peer learning creates a collaborative environment among employees. New recruits are able to learn from seasoned employees. 

In return, seasoned employees are able to further solidify their own knowledge through peer teaching.

Implementing peer learning can also help your employees and organization adapt to a changing world.

Wanting to learn more about peer learning and foster employee growth at your organization? Consider working with a BetterUp coach to grow both as an individual and in your organization.

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Published June 10, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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