Peer Learning

Peer learning: 10 benefits to collaboration in the workplace

Here are six compelling reasons to consider peer learning in your workplace.

Matthew Reeves

August 5, 2022

Peer learning is one of the strongest ways to accelerate employee development. 

Why?

For starters, learning sticks when we’re collaborating with others. We’re discussing things back and forth, explaining ourselves, actively listening to others, and refining our ideas. 

It’s leaps and bounds ahead of traditional learning that’s out of a book. 

At Together, we see more and more companies starting peer learning programs on our mentoring platform because they recognize that employee growth starts with the relationships they have. For that reason, leaders prioritize matching every employee with someone to learn from. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In this article, we unpack the compelling benefits of peer learning and how organizations can take advantage of it. 

By the end of this article, you’ll be well suited to start your own peer-to-peer mentorship program.

What is peer learning?

The idea of peer learning in the workplace is quite simple. It’s when colleagues work together to share their expertise and knowledge to learn a new skill, concept, or process.

Peer learning can be formal or informal, but it always involves some sort of collaboration between two or more peers. From shadowing someone else at work to having lunch-and-learns with colleagues, its most significant benefit is that all employees involved learn something from the exchange.

It’s a great way to boost employee engagement and collaboration while also encouraging learning and development. Plus, it helps create an environment of trust between employees, which is essential for any successful business.

The roots of peer leaning within education

Not to be confused with collaborative learning, peer learning is an approach that has been around for centuries. Unlike traditional instruction, where the teacher is the only one imparting knowledge, peer learning allows students to learn from each other, which means that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.

This type of collaboration has been proven in certain areas to be more effective than traditional learning methods, as it allows learners to gain different perspectives on a subject matter and exchange and build upon each other’s ideas while staying focused on the task at hand.

It’s beneficial in the classroom because it encourages active participation and helps build relationships between students. But this same concept is what makes peer learning such a powerful tool for employees at work.

Peer learning translates into the workplace

In the workplace, peer learning is all about collaboration. It promotes a sense of camaraderie among employees as they learn from each other and develop their skills together. 

Peer learning creates a team dynamic where everyone’s ideas and opinions are respected, encouraging employees to speak up and share their thoughts without fear of judgment or reprimand. It also fosters an environment of mutual respect, as everyone is seen as an equal contributor to the learning process.

The benefits of peer learning go beyond just collaboration and respect, though. It also helps employees to become better problem-solvers by teaching them how to work together and think critically about their ideas. It encourages creativity, which can lead to innovation in the workplace that could otherwise be stifled with traditional methods.

Why is peer-to-peer learning important?

What are the benefits of peer learning at work?

Peer learning is happening informally in a lot of workplaces. According to the Harvard Business Review, they report that 55 percent of employees will often turn to their peers when they want to learn something new. The fact that employees turn to one another to learn is an important insight for people leaders to recognize.

Seeing that 79%of CEOs worldwide worry that skill gaps are “threatening the future growth of their organization[s]” peer-to-peer learning is becoming the lever for organizational growth. This is in contrast to traditional corporate training programs which are outdated and ineffective.

Team Work

A peer-to-peer learning approach can be a more effective learning tool, particularly when peers are motivated to solve a problem or overcome a challenge together. In this type of scenario, there can be a lot of learning for employees.

Peer Feedback Loops

Peer-to-peer learning also helps employees get better at giving feedback. Knowing how to deliver constructive feedback to your peers, and understanding how to accept it are vital skills for modern workplaces. It can also teach them to be good team players and compromise to get things done. All of these qualities are indispensable for a successful workplace.

Gaining New Perspectives

Collaboration that happens in peer-to-peer experiences also exposes people to different perspectives, which is key to supporting diversity in your organization. The experience offers opportunities for employees to foster meaningful connections with others who may be different from themselves.

Peer learning has several benefits to the workplace, such as developing their communications skills, professional development, teamwork, making onboarding more efficient, and building a stronger company culture. Let’s go into more detail about the benefits of peer-to-peer collaboration.

Examples of companies using peer learning

For years, companies have been leveraging peer learning for professional development. Only about one-third of the respondents of a McKinsey survey said that their organizations don’t have systems in place to encourage learning among employees.

Below, we outline three examples of companies that are maximizing the potential of peer learning.

Bridgewater’s culture of “idea meritocracy”

As one of the largest and most successful hedge funds in the world, Bridgewater has been built by its founder Ray Dalio with the goal of operating in what he calls an “idea meritocracy.”

At Bridgewater, all opinions and ideas are shared freely and debated through a process of peer feedback and learning. Employees don't have to worry about hierarchy or politics; instead, they can focus on learning from each other in order to push the company forward.

Radical truth and radical transparency are part of the firm’s management philosophy, with the aim to create an open and honest dialogue where the best ideas can rise to the top.

Buffer’s onboarding buddy system

From the start, Buffer has focused on fostering an open and collaborative environment. As part of their onboarding program, new hires undergo a six-week immersion called Bootcamp to learn the ins and outs of the company’s culture.

The buddy system is designed to help new hires get up to speed quickly by pairing them with three buddies—a leader buddy, a role buddy, and a culture buddy. This system allows for an open dialogue between newbies and experienced professionals, which helps build trust among team members and create a sense of belonging in a short amount of time.

Airbnb’s peer mentorship

With an extraordinary growth rate on its way to becoming the world’s largest hospitality company, Airbnb has put a big emphasis on peer-to-peer learning within its organization to increase employee retention and drive innovation.

In line with their "Belong Anywhere" mission, they strive to create an environment of trust, support, and collaboration by focusing on “belonging through knowledge.” This has been done in ways like peer mentorship, in which they reported a 10% sign-up growth just within the first year, and continued to scale years after.


The 6 benefits to peer-to-peer learning include knowledge sharing, cost-effective training, strengthening company culture, faster onboarding, supporting remote employees, and helping with career pathing


10 Benefits To Peer-to-Peer Learning In The Workplace

1. Learning by teaching others: knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing is the transfer of the tactic knowledge between employees. Employees will develop a lot of tactic knowledge as they grow in their roles. It’s critical that, if they are to leave, that learning is captured and shared with others. Peer-to-peer learning encourages knowledge sharing so critical know-how is kept within organizations.

Many high potential employees can benefit from participating in peer-to-peer learning because, as they coach others, they'll learn themselves. Moreover, these employees may also be able to share their knowledge with others in your company which will help develop future leaders.

Essentially, each participant in peer learning will be able to strengthen their skills through the experience of sharing them with others. Whether they teach their colleagues or learn from them, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Peer-to-peer learning also enables knowledge sharing among participants in a comfortable setting. Rather than planning and giving a formal presentation on a topic, sharing knowledge among peers is less intimidating.

There is a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them from this collaborative setting. It’s a back and forth style of learning where they can riff off each other. This leads the conversation to explore new ideas and spur innovation - something every company should see value in.

In summary:

  • Knowledge sharing keeps critical tactic knowledge within the organization
  • High potential employees will validate their knowledge by sharing it with others
  • Hidden talent, or the “silent expert” will gain visibility for succession opportunities
  • Knowledge sharing is more comfortable than a formal presentation


2. Cost-effective training

As far as employee development programs, peer-to-peer learning is an affordable option that requires less money than hiring instructors for workshops and training sessions. You can pair this training with free educational resources like Studocu that provides summaries of study resources used at top universities.

Yet, it can still deliver great experiences for participants and the organization. Leverage the talent and skill you already have internally to cultivate employee development. Doing so will lead to reports of higher skill levels in your organization. If you agree you’re in good company. Google shared a report on their blog that an employee-to-employee learning program is better than traditional training because “your own employees are perhaps the most qualified instructors available to you.”

If you want to draw inspiration from Google, consider ways to make your high potential employees the top trainers within your company.

Implementing peer learning can happen very quickly in an organization with little support. Learn how to develop peer-to-peer learning in your workplace with Together’s step-by-step guide.

In summary:

  • Peer-to-peer learning is almost free compared to traditional training
  • Rather than hiring outside consultants leverage your in-house experts to train others
  • Be like Google when it comes to developing your people

3. Peer learning strengthens company culture

Learning from those that are similar to us and have a success story can be inspiring. These peer teachers are often more relatable than higher-ups in the company or an external instructor.

This kind of connection with colleagues and the willingness of everyone involved to work together can build a stronger company culture. Employees exposed to a peer-to-peer learning program can grow from the experience and may start to be more ambitious as a result.

Employees that are treated as experts in their field by their company will naturally feel valued. Peers will be motivated to learn more and to share that with others in the organization. The result of this will improve productivity and company culture.

In summary:

  • If you want a strong company culture you need to foster collaboration and learning between employees
  • Employees want to learn from each other rather than instructors

4. Onboarding employees

Joining a new company is nerve-wracking for an employee and a lag in productivity for organizations. Peer-to-peer learning quickly gets new hires up to speed and part of the team. It gives them people they can go to with questions and keeps them from feeling stuck.

One of the best onboarding techniques is to help the new hire feel at home quickly. Peer-to-peer learning can do this and help you create the best onboarding experience for your employees.

New employees can get to know co-workers in the company who can show them the ropes and guide them through those tricky first few weeks on the job. Companies don’t have to wait until the first day to employ peer-to-peer learning. Introducing a new hire to co-workers before they start can help ease any first-day jitters they may have.

Peer learning in the onboarding process can help new employees feel comfortable asking questions they don’t want to discuss with their manager.

In summary:

  • Peer-to-peer learning will get new hires up to speed quickly
  • New employees will always have someone they can go to with their questions
  • Peer-to-peer learning should be integral to a successful onboarding program

5. Remote employees

Employees don’t have to be in the office to benefit from peer learning. There are a variety of ways to bring remote collaboration to your team's learning. Video mentorship is an effective way to connect employees together for one-on-one meetings or group mentoring. There are several types of mentoring programs remote workplaces can leverage.  

Remote mentoring can be a great tool to help combat feelings of disconnect and isolation that come with working from home. It helps with employee engagement and helps them connect with team members on different teams they may not connect with as regularly.

So if you need to engage remote employees peer-to-peer learning is an effective strategy.

In summary:

  • Remote employees need to connect with each other but it can be more difficult
  • Peer-to-peer learning formalizes collaboration
  • Organizing remote mentoring programs is an effective way to foster collaboration between distributed team.

6. Supporting employee development and career pathing

Peer learning helps employees take ownership of their career path and development. It creates more independence in staff, allowing them to direct their development. By connecting more with their colleagues they’ll gain a broader perspective on different career paths. In turn, they may find new opportunities and set new goals for their careers.

Using a peer-to-peer learning approach to employee development can help companies quickly respond and fill experience gaps. Organizations can struggle with abrupt skill loss if a senior employee quits or retires. Encouraging employees to learn from each other is an excellent way to overcome skill shortages and experience gaps.

In summary:

  • Peer-to-peer learning encourages employees to take ownership of their career and expertise
  • Employees can direct their own learning and broaden their perspective on paths their career can take
  • Companies can quickly fill experience gaps with peer-to-peer learning

7. Employee morale and well-being

In the modern workplace, employees need to feel valued to stay motivated and engaged. They want to take on challenges and develop their skills, but they may not feel supported to do so.

Peer learning can be a way for employees to encourage each other and build an environment of trust. This kind of collaboration between colleagues builds morale and promotes feelings of well-being throughout the company. Employees will have more confidence in their abilities as they learn from each other’s successes and failures. 

The result? A healthier work environment that encourages growth, innovation, and productivity, where employees feel appreciated for their efforts as they are given a platform to share information that is valuable to their peers. This recognition leads to more responsible decision-making, which ultimately benefits the organization as a whole.

In summary:

  • Peer learning can help employees to feel valued and connected within the workplace.
  • Providing peer learning opportunities encourage employees to take on challenges and share information that is valuable to their peers

8. Increasing retention rate

One of the primary reasons why employees leave a company is because they feel like they’re not learning or growing. In fact, 94% of workers confirmed in a LinkedIn report that they would remain with a company longer if there were L&D programs.

Peer learning provides employees with access to the resources and support they need to do their jobs and stay up-to-date on the latest trends in their field. This can help reduce employee turnover rate, as employees are more likely to stay when they feel like their work is meaningful and their skills are being honed by peers who understand them better than anyone else.

This helps build relationships among employees, and this connection will often result in increased loyalty toward the organization, leading to higher retention rates over time.

In summary:

  • Employees need to feel like they’re learning and growing all the time
  • As peer learning strengthens relationships within the company, it also helps increase loyalty and retention

9. Employee engagement and productivity

Unlike traditional methods of learning, peer learning is far more engaging and interactive. It encourages employees to discuss and debate ideas, work together on problem-solving, and share their knowledge with others.

This kind of collaboration can lead to increased employee engagement and productivity, as well as improved job satisfaction because of the idea that they’re part of a team working towards a common goal.

When employees are deep into the process, they’re likely to be more productive and efficient in their work because they’re working with people who understand the challenges they face and can offer real-world advice that applies directly to the job.

In summary:

  • Peer learning is more engaging and interactive than traditional learning methods
  • Engaged employees are more productive and efficient than those who lack motivation or don't feel connected to their work
  • Increased employee engagement and productivity lead to improved job satisfaction

10. Improving knowledge retention

Learning from a colleague or peer can be more effective than learning from a book. That’s because it involves active dialogue and collaboration among the employees, which helps to cement the knowledge into their long-term memory.

In many cases, it's so much easier to remember something if you've discussed it with someone else because the discussion helps build a framework for understanding and recall later on.

Peer learning also encourages employees to ask questions, get real-time feedback, and explore different ways of solving problems, which can help them come up with innovative solutions they may not have thought of on their own.

In summary:

  • Active dialogue between peers will help knowledge stick in the long term
  • Peer learning encourages exploration and innovation in problem-solving

How peer learning fit into your L&D strategy

Not everyone learns the same way. For some, traditional methods of learning may be enough. But for others, a more collaborative and social approach to learning resonates better. That’s where peer learning comes in.

Peer learning is an important part of any L&D strategy to supplement traditional corporate learning methods. It is especially useful for teaching complex concepts that are difficult to explain in writing.

For one, it allows people to gain knowledge from one another in a manner that’s more engaging and interactive than a book or video. But it also provides employees with personalized support and development opportunities to help them reach their goals faster. Plus, it encourages collaboration among peers who may not otherwise interact.

Check out our guide on how to start a peer learning program to support your L&D initiatives.

Should you encourage peer learning or mentorship?

Learning, either through peer learning or mentorship, is an excellent way to foster collaboration and build meaningful relationships within the workplace. It can be either one-way (i.e., mentorship) or two-way (i.e., peer learning).

In peer learning, learners gain knowledge from their peers in a collaborative setting. It’s the sharing of ideas and experiences between equals that help everyone grow better together. 

Mentorship, on the other hand, is more of an apprenticeship arrangement where one person learns from another who has more expertise or experience in an area.

With this, it’s crucial to consider both tools when creating your L&D program, as they both offer unique benefits. Depending on your organizational goals, you may choose to bring in one or both.

If you’re looking to build a collaborative culture or increase employee engagement, peer learning might be the way to go. But if you’d like to provide targeted training and development like leadership training or succession planning, mentorship would be more suitable.

Conclusion

Research has found that employees have been struggling with traditional training programs. However, a peer learning or collaborative approach to employee learning and development has several benefits that could overcome the challenges organizations face.

At Together, we feel that peer learning may be a new way forward for learning at work.

close button

Learning and Development is evolving. Understand the emerging tactics and strategies closing skill gaps.

We explore how modern L&D programs are evolving to meet the needs of today's employees. Our white paper unpacks upskilling, reskilling, and how the shortening shelf-life of skills demands new ways of thinking about employee learning and development.