Do you see the value in peer learning?

According to the National Training Laboratories Institute, the average person retains just 5% of the information they hear in a lecture. But they will retain 50% of what they hear in a discussion, 75% of what they practise through action, and as much as 95% of what they teach to another person!

We all learn in different ways, yet one thing we have in common is that we can learn a lot from other people’s insights and experiences.

In my lifetime, I’ve sat through decades of learning processes that weren’t engaging or stimulating. At times, I was literally falling asleep.

I now believe that engaging in peer learning as part of our natural learning process is essential to success. In fact, I even call learning a team sport and include peer learning in all my workshops because I know it helps people get the most out of them.

Peer learning not only provides a learning outcome but a social aspect as well which is invaluable in building our networks.

What others say about peer learning

Earlier this year, I completed a course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Being a big fan of study groups, I was quick to connect with different people I knew I could learn from.
One of these people was Colonel Caitlin Langford from the Australian Army.
I asked Caitlin to share her views* on peer learning within her role in the Army…

Caitlin, how do you actively engage in peer learning at work?

Peer learning has, at times, been supported through a structured approach where conditions have been set for collaborative engagement in the workplace or on military courses.

For example, a cohort of members of the same rank might meet to engage in discussions on topics of relevance to identify a way forward. An example of this in the Army is Colonel’s Day, which occurs a few times a year, and allows for two-way engagement on issues that the cohort is in a position to influence.

I have also been a part of ‘Blue Sky’ days, where problems are focused on and options worked through, under the premise, there are no constraints or limitations to resourcing or current paradigms. The environment is established from the start, where everyone present has something to contribute.

On a more personal level, reaching out to peers to discuss issues and seek counsel is important, particularly if it assists in framing well-considered solutions. Using social media, email, and phone calls can support this if appropriate; however, nothing goes past a face to face catch up over a coffee.

Social engagements are generally encouraged during courses, as this also allows for a relaxed environment where matters can be discussed and networks established.

And how does peer learning contribute to your professional development?

Being receptive to constructive feedback is invaluable to learning, improving and broadening our perspectives.

We often don’t realise we have biases (unconscious) so seeking feedback from people you know think differently can assist in identifying any biases or blind spots to thinking.

I have also had 360-degree feedback, which has provided insight into how superiors, peers and subordinates perceive my management, leadership and emotional EQ. The key is if we only keep people close to us who think the same way, particularly in a work setting, we miss the goodness which comes from diversity and other people’s insight and experience. 

I encourage my team to challenge me on matters, and I actively seek review of issues through peers and subordinates before submitting for higher-level review (particularly where they are important matters). 

How to engage in more peer learning

Not every workplace or training facilitator does a good job of facilitating peer learning. However, you have the power to change this!

You could:

  • Connect one on one with peers
  • Ask if they would like to form a study or discussion group
  • Decide together how often to meet and for how long
  • Set a plan for what you will work through at each catch-up
  • Check-in regularly to make sure everyone is benefiting
  • Maintain relationships after the study related catch-ups end

You might even set up different groups for different purposes. In a recent course I joined 2 study groups: the first so that I could deepen my understanding of the materials and case studies presented during the course, and the second so I could prepare a large assignment and engage in peer review and feedback processes. 

In creating your group, try to engage people who are very different to you – older, younger, and from other cultural backgrounds. Great teams comprise people who have diverse perspectives to contribute, which amplifies everyone’s learning success.

Lastly, consider signing up for a new course in an area of interest if you work solo. It’s a great way to expand your networks, make new friends, and develop your skills.

I’m always learning, so if I happen to see you at a course in the future, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me to join your study group!

* These are Caitlin’s personal views, not the views of her employer, the Australian Army.

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