Peer learning

A guide to peer to peer learning

Where do your team members go when they need to learn something? HR would like to say they go to their learning management system and take a course. But most of the time, employees go to each other to solve problems and learn. This is the essence of peer-to-peer learning. To scale peer learning across your organization, here's your guide to starting a peer-to-peer learning program.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

January 11, 2022

Updated on 

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According to the American Society for Training and Development, companies spent an average of $1,208 on training and development in 2013. In 2014, they spent an average of $1,229 on training employees. In 2019, the average corporation spent $1308 on direct learning for an employee, according to the Association of Talent Development, State of the Industry report of 2020.

One thing is obvious: Businesses and corporations are spending millions of dollars annually to keep their worker skills updated with the necessary knowledge and skill needed to excel.

Yet, 75% of HR professionals worry about job candidates' increasing skill gaps. And not without good reason. The World Economic Forum reports that there will be a shortage of skills, and half of the global workforce will need to upskill by 2025. One surefire way to tackle skills gaps in your organization is through implementing peer-to-peer learning in your organization.

Why? Because it’s the most effective way to learn. Degreed studies show workers turn towards their peers, with 55% seeking out support from co-workers—and this comes only second to turning to their managers.

In this article, we’ll define what peer-to-peer learning is, its advantages, examples, and steps to start your peer learning program. Following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to having a plan and best practices to close skills gaps in your workforce and build high-performance teams.

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What is peer-to-peer learning?

Peer-to-peer learning is an approach to teaching where learners teach each other. Without direct intervention from teachers, students engage in collaborative learning. Staff monitor the process, but peers are in charge. Working one-on-one, peers provide each other individualized help, promote teamwork, and gain new insights from one another. This approach is becoming more common within higher education.

In the context of the workplace, peer-to-peer learning is a way for employees to learn new skills and tactics from their coworkers through shared experiences. Learning from others can help them improve their job performance. And this is in contrast to individualized learning. Most skills can’t be learned independently, but require teamwork.

Most skills can't be learned independently. Most learning is done socially among peers.

What are the advantages of peer-to-peer learning in the workplace?

Organizations that implement peer-to-peer learning experience several benefits. It is an effective way for employees to develop feedback loops, improve communication skills, and promote teamwork. Let’s look at the concrete benefits to the workplace in more detail.

Here are some other benefits that come with strategic peer learning in the workplace:

  • It promotes upskilling in the workplace: Peer-to-peer learning is an effective way for employees to become better at what they do, increase their productivity and general knowledge base, and improve relationships with coworkers. The lack of learning skills is the most significant challenge for many companies. If you want to close this gap and remain competitive, then it's crucial that your teams are equipped with new knowledge about their industry or field—and workplace education plays an integral role in making sure they're up-to-date.
  • Employees are in charge of their learning and development: Eighty-seven percent of employees consider learning and development a crucial part of their career. The ability for employees to learn, grow and develop their skills on the job is essential to be successful. Peer-to-peer learning makes this possible by giving workers access to education and mentorship from coworkers.
  • Social Learning: The 70-20-10 learning model shows that more of our learning happens socially rather than through independent study. When you think about corporate training, most of it is an online learning and learning management system. But that only accounts for 30% of employee learning. Peer-to-peer learning fills the rest of the gap. Peer-to-peer learning is more effective for employees than online training. Online courses are great for specific tactical skills, but today's essential skills like leadership, problem-solving, and strategic thinking are best learned by working alongside team members.
  • Knowledge Sharing: According to a study, peer learning has been found to be effective in enhancing top German football players' personal development and performance. In the same way that it helps in sports, peer learning done right can also improve your employee development and performance.

Examples of peer-to-peer learning

There are various ways peer learning can take place in an organization. Here are some ways you can engage your employees in peer-to-peer learning.

Assigning an onboarding buddy to new hires

Stacey Nordwall, Culture Amp's Senior People Operations Manager, says, "Creating a good onboarding experience is no longer a nice-to-have, it's a necessity," yet you will be shocked to know only 12% of employees feel their organization has an effective onboarding process according to Gallup.

Organizations can assign an onboarding buddy to new hires through peer-to-peer learning, improving their onboarding experience.

Peer learning is socialization.

Starting a group mentoring program for developing managers

It can be difficult for new managers to reach their full potential. To address this issue, creating a group mentoring program that will provide them with professional coaching and support from experienced mentors will effectively help them grow in their new roles.

Ninety-eighty percent of new managers need more training and help to succeed in their new role. But sadly, 58% do not get the required training and help. Developing a manager mentor program will help fill this gap.

Connecting remote workers through knowledge-sharing activities

With remote work increasingly gaining momentum, 35% of employees say peer learning is a great way to connect remotely because geographical boundaries do not confine it. Collaborating through knowledge-sharing activities allows people worldwide to connect and share their expertise while also getting better at what they do.

Skills and knowledge needed at work at learned either independently or socially

Five steps to implement a peer learning program at work

Before you can implement a peer learning program at work, you need to create an environment that encourages and facilitates group collaboration. Below are the steps to implement a peer learning program at work. The foundation of these steps, however, is to foster a workplace culture that values learning.

1. Define what your goal is

You can't just enroll people in a program and expect them to start learning something new without purpose. To really take advantage of peer learning, you have to be very specific about your goals so that everyone involved knows exactly why they're there. This makes defining those goals and objectives an important first step when creating any program at work.

  • Increase employee engagement
  • Aid upskilling or training initiatives
  • Increase retention and internal mobility

2. Assign a program manager

A successful peer learning program has a clear and detailed organizational structure achievable through the assignment of an experienced manager or learning facilitator. You need a designated individual to handle the program's logistics. It won't happen on its own. There needs to be a champion.

This program manager or learning facilitator will keep everyone clear on the program's subject matter, ideas, and themes. They will also ensure participants work hard to constructively receive and give feedback to enhance their learning possibilities.

To learn more about how to be a facilitator, we have a great resource on starting small, with a pilot program. Although its focus is on mentorship, the resource outlines steps applicable to any successful learning program.

3. Build meeting agendas and curate learning resources or activities

An effective peer learning program is about more than just the activities themselves. You need to build and develop frameworks like meeting agendas, curate resources or activities for the group to learn from each other's experiences, and facilitate connections between their lives, careers, and the company's culture.

You can't just get employees in the same room and expect them to start learning. Give them ice breakers and structured agendas for discussions. Examples include goal setting, job shadowing, or problem-solving. A great way of starting this process would be by collaboratively brainstorming topics on what interests them all and any relevant knowledge gaps that may exist within your company's industries.

You will have to build these yourself, or you can use Together's software that already has a prebuilt agenda with helpful discussion topics, learning resources like ted talks and articles, and more.

4. Promote the program

Organizing events (either virtually or in person) is one way to promote your peer learning program.

Another way to garner support is to get employees excited about the benefits of peer learning. Businesses and HR can cue JetBlue's collaboration with Globoforce for a peer-to-peer social program.

The programs entail nominating coworkers based on the value of their contributions. The employee or worker who gets the most points is rewarded. In this study, for every 10% more people who reported being recognized by JetBlue, there was a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement.

It doesn't end there; an effective manager will have people who want to register for the program. This can be done by filling out a form, or if you use Together's software, you can manage it all from our platform.

5. Pair up employees and give them structured sessions

The goal of pairing is to encourage peer mentorship. Since you’ve promoted the program well, you’ll have employees eagerly filling out registration forms.

If you use Google forms, the next thing to do is sift through submissions and pair employees manually. This step can take a long time. But if you're running a larger program, it's best to use a pairing algorithm like Together's that automates the process.

When pairing, you can organize small groups or 1-on-1 pairings. Consult the goals of the program and decide which would be most relevant to you.

Lastly, provide the agendas you made in the third step. They should have activities for peers to complete together. If done well, their sessions should be focused on relevant topics that encourage peers to learn from one another and build a growth-focused relationship.

6. Monitor learning outcomes and collect feedback

By now your program is well on its way. An effective peer learning program will have participants that are actively engaged and give feedback on their experience. Their feedback is critical to improving the program.

There are a few ways to get feedback to monitor the program.

  • Surveys,
  • Individual check-ins with participants, and
  • Monitoring how much they learn.

The goal of this final step is to begin collecting feedback from each person about what went well or not so great to improve.  

This documentation will inform changes needed for the improvement of future sessions.

Together's software has built-in reporting that gives you insight into each pairing or the whole program. You can see details like their goals, progress towards them, or how they feel about each of their sessions with feedback and ratings.

Start your peer-to-peer learning program today

Providing peer-to-peer learning opportunities in your organization is a great way to improve employee engagement and reduce turnover. It also helps you capitalize on the talent you already have by using current employees collaborate with help others in your organization to develop new skills.

Once you are able to harness the power of peer-to-peer learning, you can be sure that your employees' learning and development will accelerate.

We've given you helpful tips to start your peer learning program. Following these steps, you can do so manually, but if you want to quickly get a program up and running and scale it as it grows, check out how Together’s platform can help you.

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