“…learning with and from each other is
a necessary and important aspect of all courses. The role it
plays varies widely and the forms it takes are very diverse,
but without it students gain an impoverished education.”
The use of instructional strategies that require students to be
more actively involved in the learning process is now strongly advocated
for primary, secondary and tertiary education in Singapore. Peer
learning provides such an educational strategy.
What is peer learning?
Peer learning essentially refers to students learning with
and from each other as fellow learners without any implied
authority to any individual, based on the tenet that “Students
learn a great deal by explaining their ideas to others and by participating
in activities in which they can learn from their peers” (Boud,
Reliance on the traditional lecture as the main mode of student
learning has been criticised as:
- moulding students into passive recipients of information transmitted
by the teacher and making them highly dependent on teachers for
much of their learning needs;
- promoting rote-learning that involves mainly memorisation,
recall and regurgitation of facts; and
- acquiring abundant inert knowledge often difficult to apply
in the work environment, whereas “What matters…is
not just what students know but what they can do with what they
know. What’s at stake is the capacity to perform, to
put what one knows into practice” (Meyers & Jones,
Today, information technology (e.g. computer programs/databases,
Internet facilities) has provided “students with excellent
opportunities to learn without requiring a teacher to transmit
the available information” (Bohuijs, 1998), thereby necessitating
a shift in paradigm from the highly teacher-centred to learner-centred
education (e.g. peer learning) in which students are expected to
take greater initiative and responsibility to manage more of their
own learning and educational/personal development.
In peer learning, students will construct their own meaning
and understanding of what they need to learn. Essentially,
students will be involved in searching for, collecting, analysing,
evaluating, integrating and applying information to complete an
assignment or solve a problem. Thus, students will engage themselves
intellectually, emotionally and socially
in “constructive conversation” and learn by
talking and questioning each other’s views and reaching consensus
or dissent (Boud, 2001).
Peer learning is optimised when incorporated as an integral component
of a curriculum, paying special attention to:
- Creating a conducive learning environment: Students
must build mutual respect for and trust and confidence
in one another, so that they “feel free to express
opinions, test ideas, and ask for, or offer help when it is needed”
(Smith, 1983). Peer learning can be further enhanced if the “environment
of mutual help…continues over time and beyond the classroom”
(Boud, 2001). Thus, students are individually and collectively
accountable for optimising their own learning and achievements.
- Learning in small collaborative groups: Many of the
key elements for effective peer learning are often incorporated
in the design of small collaborative learning groups, and “research
shows that students who engage in collaborative learning and group
study perform better academically, persist longer, feel better
about the educational experience, and have enhanced self-esteem”
(Landis, 2000). Furthermore, “the peer support…is
a powerful psychological ballast to critical thinking efforts”
Expected beneficial outcomes
In addition to content knowledge acquisition, peer learning, especially
in small collaborative groups, nurtures and fosters the
- self-directed learning skills, and thus lays the foundation
for life-long continuing self-education;
- critical thinking and problem-solving skills;
- communication, interpersonal and teamwork skills;
- learning through self, peer assessment and critical
Peer learning also strongly motivates learning often attributed
to the fun and joy of learning in small groups. The outcomes
of peer learning ultimately depend on the design strategy, outcome
objectives of the course, facilitating skills of the teacher, and
the commitment of students and teachers.
In conclusion, peer learning is learner-centred education that
transcends content knowledge acquisition. Peer learning optimises
student learning outcomes and provides a more holistic, value-added
and quality-enhancing education that will better prepare students
for the needs of the workforce in this millennium.
Bohuijs, P.A.J. (1998). ‘The Teacher and Self-Directed Learners’.
In Jolly, B. & Rees, L. (Ed.), Medical Education in the
Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 192–198.
Boud, D. (2001). ‘Introduction: Making the Move to Peer
Learning’. In Boud, D., Cohen, Ruth & Sampson, Jane (Ed.).
Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning From & With Each
Other. London: Kogan Page Ltd, 1–17.
Brookfield, S.D. (1987). Developing Critical Thinkers.
Jossey-Bass, San Franciso.
Landis, R.B. (2000). ‘Academic Success Strategies’.
In Studying Engineering: A Road Map to a Rewarding Career (2nd ed.).
Los Angeles: Discovery Press.
Meyers, C. & Jones, T.B. (1993). Promoting Active Learning
Strategies for the College Classroom. San Fracncisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, R.M. (1983). Learning How to Learn. U.K.: Buckingham
Open University Press.