Peer learning on online courses - learning together is motivating and helps share knowledge

Peer learning is a learner-oriented way of learning together.

Peer learning means learners learning from one another and working together to solve problems. The informal learning happening in our everyday lives is often a process of peer learning. On social media, we share tips about numerous topics from household chores to recruiting, in our free time we practice various skills with our friends, and in professional networks, we share our knowledge actively with others.

Seeing learning as a learner-oriented process where the learner is the main focus and the premise of learning, has lately become more popular also in formal education in addition to informal learning situations. Learner-oriented teaching has been proven to create better and more long-term learning results than a traditional, teacher-oriented way of teaching.

Peer learning improves interactions and communication

Peer learning supports profound and long-lasting learning and a task-oriented way of problem-solving. This means that the learner achieves a deeper level of understanding the topics instead of just memorizing things. A profound understanding is needed to be able to teach something to others.

Peer learning is about a group of learners solving problems together. When the group is given a task to which the answer cannot be found directly from the learning material, a peer learning process activates, and the group members will work together to search for information and find solutions.

This kind of group work requires that all members of a group are willing to work together. Working together supports the feeling of communality and the quality of interactions. That is what makes peer learning a great way to learn: In addition to the task and topic itself, peer learning improves the learners’ interaction and communication skills.

The key elements of peer learning are attendance, interaction, and discussion.

How to utilize peer learning on online courses?

Utilizing peer learning on online courses requires that a chance for interactions and active participation are provided on the course. The course content should be versatile and guide learners to an interactive way of working. Several tools can be used to achieve this, for example, discussions and peer reviews.

Discussions are a tool for sharing information

When course attendees have discussions on online courses, they have a chance to get to know each other better and improve the quality of interactions. Discussing the course topics also has positive effects on commitment and motivation towards the course.

Take into notice that it is not likely for a spontaneous discussion to spark from the attendees of an online course. Often the most active discussions are born from the initiative and a certain topic given by the instructor.

Here are a few great topics for discussion for online courses:

  • How could this phenomenon be implemented in everyday life?
  • What are the upsides and downsides of this phenomenon?
  • What kind of challenges could be faced when implementing this into practice?
  • How could these problems be solved?
  • What kind of solutions have you used in this kind of situation? How have they worked?
  • How could the implementation of this be monitored?

Peer reviewing guides learners to assess others’ answers

Using peer reviewable tasks is a popular way to utilize peer learning in online courses. What this means is that after the learner has submitted their assignment, they will be able to see other learners’ answers and be able to assess and comment on them.

Here are a few examples of peer reviewable tasks:

  • Coming up with solutions for a situation described in the task
  • Describing a certain task or process either by writing or on a video
  • Telling a story of an example or describing a way to implement something into practice.

Utilizing peer reviews on online courses makes the instructor’s job easier since the attendees are doing some of the assessment work that used to belong to the instructor. Thus, peer reviews are often the only sensible way to give individual feedback to attendees on large courses.

When learners get a chance to see and read the other attendees’ thoughts, it also offers them a chance to learn from their peers and widen their way of thinking.

However, this is something that you get used to with time!  By conducting peer reviews learners get experiences on being both the feedback’s receiver and the giver.

Writing constructive feedback and analyzing other learners’ assignments is a good way to learn a critical way of processing and assessing information. When a learner learns to assess others’ assignments with a certain process, they will simultaneously learn to assess also their way of working with the same processes and criteria.

Successful peer reviews require good instructions

If you want to use peer reviewable tasks on your online course, it is essential to give the learners instructions on how the assessment should be done. This is crucial so that the assessment is directed towards the things that are appropriate for the course. The assessments on a first aid course probably cannot be done in the same way as the assessment of a creative writing course.

Here are a few examples of possible assessment criteria for different kinds of answers:

  • profoundness
  • argumentation
  • insightfulness
  • validity
  • use of language
  • use of concepts

On smaller courses, the instructor can also assess the tasks opened to peer reviewal. When doing this, the instructor should consider what is the purpose of their assessment. Is it more appropriate to give it first for all others to see and start the conversation or should it be the very last assessment that is given?

Feedback and openness

Asking for feedback is useful on all courses, but on courses aiming for peer learning its importance is highlighted. Peer learning is based on the openness of communication and interactions, active participation, and discussion, which means that the instructor can give an example of openness by openly asking for feedback and giving the learners a chance to see the feedback given.

Read also:

Online training feedback - How to collect high-quality course feedback

Online courses and gamification: how to add game elements to your online training

Interactivity on online courses - assignments, peer reviews and discussions

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