Benefitting from Peer Knowledge

Research shows that when people want to learn a skill, turning to colleagues for help is often the first thing they do. That’s a great way of learning. Garnering knowledge from colleagues is very well suited to the way people learn. We gain skills and knowledge; practice by applying them; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned. Learning from our colleagues encompasses all of these.

Peer to peer learning

The depth and extent of a learner’s development depends on a willingness to make mistakes, challenge ideas, and question concerns. Unlike some learning methods peer learning creates an opportunity where the learner can feel safe taking these risks without a sense that their manager is evaluating their performance while they are learning. You’re more likely to have honest conversations about areas you need to develop with a colleague than with someone who has control over your career. Peer learning provides a structured framework to have these discussions.

The format of peer learning helps employees develop management and leadership skills. Group reflection conversations help employees grasp the challenging skills of giving and accepting honest, constructive feedback. Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is helpful and meaningful. They think from the perspective of their peer, consider where each is coming from, and try to be specific about what will be most helpful and constructive. This doesn’t happen as often when a manager delivers one-way feedback to employees. Similarly, peer learning gives employees experience in leadership, handling different points of view, and developing skills such as empathy.

To make peer learning successful for your team, here are some tips.

It’s important to have a neutral party who is not the team’s manager facilitate the learning process to keep it on track. This person should organise sessions, keep everyone focussed on the topic, keep conversations moving forward, and maintain a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.

Peer learning only works when participants feel safe enough to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions. They need to be open and vulnerable enough to accept constructive input, and also have the courage to give honest feedback rather than telling people what they want to hear.

To build a safe environment, set ground rules. For example, confidentiality must be respected; feedback should be perceived as a helpful gesture that should always be met with appreciation; participants should put themselves in others’ shoes; and participants should never be laughed at or embarrassed for expressing themselves in front of their colleagues.

Whenever possible, these sessions should focus on genuine problems to solve. People are more likely to participate, learn, and remember new skills if they are learned in the course of addressing a real-life challenge.

It helps to set up online social networks supporting the learning. Organise networking events for people to discuss their area of expertise and establish learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas.

A good peer-to-peer learning framework complements more traditional learning processes and, your team will build lasting skills and relationships that will allow them to bring the skills they learn into their daily work.

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DISCLAIMER

Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2019 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.