When it comes to the professional development of their employees, companies usually come up with elaborate training programs that disrupt the activity, bring appreciated experts to share their knowledge, and follow up with some sort of examination. In doing so, they oversee what might be the most powerful learning tool for employees: learning from each other. Read further to find out why peer learning should be a priority for you and your team, and how to help your employees learn from each other.
Why to encourage peer-to-peer learning
Contrary to the popular beliefs, not everyone grabs their phone and googles whenever they need to find out how to do something. Most professionals working in an office turn to their peers for information.
However, not many companies put in place any kind of formal peer learning programs. If you are still making up your mind about that, here are some reasons that should convince you to do it.
1. Already have the know-how
You can just take advantage of the knowledge that is already available in your company. There is a reason why you hired your employees – at some point you decided that they are the best among their peers. So who should the best people learn from, if not each other?
2. It follows the loop
The learning loop is comprised of four factors:
- Gaining knowledge
- Practicing what you learned
- Getting feedback, and
- Reflecting on the information
This is what peer-to-peer offers. It allows you to immediately apply the new information, get feedback, and finally let it sink in.
3. It’s a safe method
When learning a new skill, it is important to be comfortable to ask questions, talk about your concerns and not be afraid to make mistakes. Learning in more formal settings, being stressed by the following evaluations, makes all that less likely to happen.
However, peer-to-peer learning is exactly the opposite. It creates a safe environment for people to grow without fearing any possible consequences.
4. It fosters leadership skills
Peer-to-peer learning helps employees master the skills of giving and receiving constructive feedback. Given the fact that each person stands at both ends of the process, people do their best to provide meaningful feedback for their peers.
Giving feedback to one of your colleagues requires to put yourself into their shoes and be very specific. This rarely happens in more hierarchical situations, for example when a manager gives feedback to an employee. Besides that, people get used to accepting different opinions, and develop their empathy, which are very important skills for any leader.
As you can see, there is less room for debate when it comes to the benefits of a peer learning program. All it’s left now is making a plan to instate it in your company. The 4 strategies presented below should give you a start in the right direction.
How to facilitate peer-to-peer learning
Setting up a peer-to-peer learning program doesn’t require many resources. All it takes is flexibility and people’s will to participate and improve themselves through sharing. It can be done in person, or online – through smart team communication apps such as Hubgets. It can take weeks, months, or can even be done on a more frequent regular basis. However, for the success of your peer learning program, you should follow a few strategies:
1. Foster a safe environment
It is true that most often people feel safer talking about their weaknesses among their peers, but there also needs to be an active effort of building a safe space for learning. This means that you should propose some guidelines for all participants to follow. Everyone should know that there is no such thing as a dumb question, that feedback is not the same as criticism, and that honesty is not punished, but valued.
You need to avoid the situations in which people either say what they think the other person wants to hear, or use feedback to put each other down. Feedback should always be polite, honest, and constructive. Its purpose is to help the other person grow and learn from their mistakes. No one should be afraid to say what they are thinking, to ask questions, or to make mistakes. Remember that fear of failure is what holds most people back and stays in the way of progress.
2. Assign a coordinator
While peer learning is based on non-hierarchical organization, there is still a need to have a structure. A coordinator must keep track of time, keep the conversation going, make sure everyone stays on-topic, and maintain a safe and positive environment. The coordinator is not superior to the rest of participants, so it might not be a good idea to appoint someone who occupies a leadership position in the company. One of the safest ways to do this is by rotation. For each session, another member of the team gets to coordinate the meeting, so everyone remains equal.
3. Use real-life examples
People need to be able to relate to the situations presented as exercises in order to participate, remember, and learn. So there is no point in keeping things in the abstract, or using situations that are very less likely to be encountered by the participants. Use real life examples that will prove the efficiency and utility of the newly acquired skills right from the first moment.
4. Encourage teamwork and cooperation
Learning from each other is a lot easier when employees are actively encouraged to cooperate and work together as a team. Meaningful relationships based on trust among peers will provide a much better peer learning experience for everybody. Therefore, it is important to encourage teamwork not only within your peer learning program, but as a part of the company culture. You can easily do that with the Team Board in Hubgets, which is the social board on our team communication app, or by organizing team building sessions both on site and outside of the company, and by organizing frequent social meetings.
A win-win situation
To sum things up, peer learning programs are very efficient learning tools that should be implemented by any company that values its employees. Learning from each other will help people grow professionally, but also personally, while providing a great feeling of meaningfulness. People are happier when they take part in something bigger than themselves, and contributing to other people’s growth offers a great sense of achievement.
Last but not least, peer learning is a great bonding opportunity for teammates. It will make your team grow stronger and ultimately improve its productivity. It’s a situation from which everybody wins.
Whether you already have a peer learning program running, or you are planning on setting one up, we would love to hear your ideas and experiences. Use the comments section to get in touch.