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The case for formalising peer-to-peer learning

Glenys Barton

Employees learn best from one another, but most firms fail to bring informal peer-to-peer learning into their formal training programmes. That’s a mistake worth correcting.

Over half of employees say they learn best from their colleagues. Quoting their firm’s own research, Kelly Palmer and David Blake claim: “Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful development tool that breaks through some common barriers to skill building – and has other benefits as well.” Writing for Harvard Business Review, they explain why peer-to-peer training works, and how to harness it for your organisation.


There’s a tendency among managers to assume that “experts from outside the company are more valuable as teachers than those inside it”. But people learn best when they have the opportunity to test newly acquired skills, gain feedback and adjust their approach.

That’s exactly the capability that peer-to-peer learning provides; by drawing on in-house expertise, you make the most of existing skills and capabilities, a win-win scenario that promotes a positive learning loop.

Here’s how to make peer-to-peer education a part of your firm’s training strategy.

1) Appoint a referee. Peer-to-peer learning is non-hierarchical, but you still need somebody to maintain momentum, promote a constructive atmosphere, and provide a sounding board. Choose someone who is impartial and who does not manage the learning group in the work setting.

2) Set ground rules. Learning via honest feedback puts staff in a vulnerable position. For them to feel comfortable within their crique group, insist on confidentiality and foster a learning ethos that promotes generosity and empathy.

3) Keep it real. The strength of peer-to-peer learning is that it avoids the abstract concepts that can undermine the relevance of external training. To make the most of it, base your sessions on real-life scenarios.

4) Promote networking. Maximise the potential of informal learning within your organisation by engineering online and offline networking events where staff can share their knowledge across disciplines.

Peer-to-peer education is about fostering the sort of honest conversations that lead to knowledge exchange, the benefits of which you’ll reap too, as you listen and learn.

Image: Glenys Barton
Source Article: How To Help Your Employees Learn From Each Other
Author(s): Kelly Palmer and David Blake