Why peer learning?

This is a conversation I have a lot with academics. If you’ve spent 20 years studying, then another 10 years teaching, it’s hard to imagine why students wouldn’t want to learn from you. You have all this experience! All these skills! You know lots!

However, when I’m trying to explain why peer learning is so very effective, I ask educators to think about when they started higher education. I ask them to get in touch with what they were like back then, whether they were a traditional school leaver and were 17-19 years old, whether they returned to learning later, I bet they’ll tell you that there was a mix of trepidation and excitement when they started university. Trepidation: “how will I cope?” “will I be good enough?” “am I in the right course?” “what if I fail?” And excitement: “Looking forward to the challenges” “Nice to be out of secondary education” “Get to hang out with people like me”. All of those emotions show how peer learning can help!

But while that trepidation and excitement is there, what is also there is their background. And unfortunately, many people come with hangups from past teaching experiences, whether it be primary school (I was asked whether I was a horse, because I only nodded), high school (where I was reduced to tears by the bully who teased me about being super tall) or others (my TAFE learning experience made me very grumpy with my teacher).

So, despite how wonderfully friendly you are, how determined you are to be accessible and friendly for the first year learner, you’re still one of them. One of the “teachers”. And this is why peers are effective. That’s what I tell my U:PASS leaders. They’re not teachers. They’re just peers. Whether they be 40+ or 19, they are just like their learners – still learning, still studying similar subjects.

That’s why peers are effective. They are not us.

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About Georgina Barratt-See

Georgina manages the UTS U:PASS (UTS Peer Assisted Study Success) program, which assists students in 50 first and second year subjects with study sessions run by trained student facilitators. Georgina has 14 years experience in the Higher Education sector with interests in student leadership, mentoring, first year experience, teaching and learning.

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