Peer Learning

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Michael Josefovicz (twitter: @ToughLoveforX) and Chris Jones (twitter: @sourcePOV), without whom this post would not have been written.


Chris runs regular tweet-ups using the #ecosys hashtag, and Michael wanted to know more about one of my tweets in a recent tweet-up.

Michael’s original tweet was “@fmindlin #ecosys From what I’ve read Peer learning is a change that has demonstrable effect across many contexts. 2ยข a basic principle.” to which I replied “@ToughLoveforX (@fmindlin) #ecosys Students teaching=peer learning? I was peer teaching in what was to be my specialist subject back in 1970“. Michael wanted to know more, in particular if peer learning could work well. I asserted “@ToughLoveforX (@fmindlin) It *can* work well PROVIDED THAT the teacher monitors closely and advises *gently* #ecosys“. This post expands on that idea.


My first experience as a student-teacher (or providing peer-learning, choose whichever phrase you prefer) was in 1970 in a then new subject (“Computer Programming”) at a moderately progressive school. About half-way through the course, I had outstripped my teacher (he was in his early 20s, and the subject was as new to him as it was to the rest of us) and I was on my own. Part of the learning process was helping learners understand what had gone wrong with their own efforts. With the teacher’s assent, I was sorting out just as many of my peers’ issues as he was.

Crucially, I had already developed my own understanding of the subject, which is a point that often seems to be missed in the “pyramid” model of teaching and learning.

Skip forward to 1999, when I was teaching computer networking to diploma level students. There was one student who knew his stuff, but who was slightly awkward socially. Now for a disruptive idea: get him to teach part of a lesson. Despite his own fears, he was extremely keen on the idea. We negotiated and agreed content, duration (about 20 minutes) and delivery mode. His delivery was almost flawless (amazing for somebody with no previous teaching experience) and he made only one factual error. His self-confidence was much improved by the experience.

There was then the issue of how to correct the factual error. The words I chose were something along the lines of “Thanks for all that. You did a wonderful job. There was only one thing that was not quite right, and it was …”. And let’s face it, what teacher does not make mistakes in the classroom?

Now to more recent experiences. I have been working with young people in a basic literacy and numeracy context. My own teaching style includes setting up an exercise, and then letting the learners get on with it, while maintaining a low as profile as I can manage. I monitor what support learners are giving each other (along with a myriad other things that I am observing). Except when a learner makes a factual error to another learner, I say nothing in that context, only intervening in the same manner that I did in 1999.

Can that level of observing be demanding? Yes, of course it is. Can it be rewarding? Yes, extremely so.

Does Peer Learning Have a Future?

Peer learning may be an under-reported classroom activity. For my money, it certainly has a future, and perhaps we should be putting a bit more emphasis on this in teacher training.

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