Using Peer-to-Peer Approaches to Extend eLearning’s Reach

In a perfect world, learning professionals would design eLearning modules and courses which would then be made available, with everyone who should take it logging and completing the material. Needless to say, we live in a less-than-perfect world. And even when people do engage the eLearning material, the transfer rate of skills and knowledge is often abysmally low (to the tune of only 20%, according to some studies). When your eLearning efforts are meant to spark a significant level of organizational change, consider using peer-to-peer approaches to extend eLearning’s reach.

Using Peer-to-Peer Approaches to Extend eLearning’s Reach

Peer-to-peer approaches have been used widely throughout the educational field for decades. The approach has taken root to some extent in the training field as well, where it is often referred to as train-the-trainers. The basic idea is simple, have a core group of people go through the learning process and then they can go out and take others through that process as well.

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This peer-to-peer approach makes all kinds of common sense in the modern organizational environment, especially with a greater emphasis on teamwork in recent decades. The time is ripe to leverage this approach to boost your eLearning efforts as well. The new buzz-phrase around this is each one teach one, although it’s actually an African American proverb that dates back to the days of slavery and explains the approach slaves took to teaching each other how to read.

Part of the reason it works so well is that people often have a different relationship with their peers than they have with leaders. I know this sounds nearly the opposite of the leaders-as-teachers approach I’ve recently written about (see The Importance of Combining Leading and Teaching), but it still makes sense, especially if you see the two approaches as being complementary rather than as mutually exclusive. Peers often have a closer and even more trusting relationship than they have with leaders, which can make learning something new that much less intimidating.

The initial set of people who go through the eLearning material become your internal champions of change who will disseminate the learning throughout the organization in iterative waves of learning. In this sense, the learning becomes “contagious” in a good way, replicating and multiplying its effects throughout the company.

The other way to leverage peer-to-peer learning is to take full advantage of peer learning opportunities from within the eLearning experience itself. This is all about making sure that rich peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities are part of your eLearning efforts, including the following:

  • Co-Authoring. This involves learners coming together in a virtual space to collaborate on generating and editing content.
  • Collaborative Problem-Solving. Here is where learners must collaborate with each other to solve a problem or figure out how to research a particular challenge using social networking tools.
  • Knowledge-Sharing. The focus here is to identify and build upon the different pieces of knowledge and experience held by different members of the learning group.
  • The more experienced learners bring guidance and perspective to the less experienced learners.
    Peer Review. Learners submit their work to a central virtual repository where peers give feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Resource-Making. Learners develop materials that will help future learners who come into this learning space, whether useful links to relevant websites, literature to read and review, and so on.

As you can see from some of the ideas listed above, the way peer-to-peer learning extends eLearning’s reach is in part by blending the eLearning with the face-to-face world of human interactions. This makes sense when the end result you have in mind is changed behaviors in the real world!

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