Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Peer Learning

Most students I know of at university are scared to ask questions to the lecturers when they don't understand something. I'm not one of these people, I love asking questions (see my earlier post about why you should do this too - Persuasion and Influence: Why I'm a Crazy Questioner ). However, this is not always the best way to learn. Sadly there comes a point where your lecturers can't keep repeating their lectures to you because you're at a loss. So what should you do when your totally stuck on a topic and you don't feel like you're lecturer is a safe option?

Personally, I think the best way to learn is with friends. They keep you interested and can teach you things in new ways that you may find more understandable. Teaching things to course mates yourself is also a great way of testing your understanding and rehearsing information so it sticks better in your memory.  I know in primary school it was something we were strongly encouraged to do and it helped to improve our communication skills and team work abilities. According to Damon (1984), peer learning in schools can improve motivation, enhance self-esteem and promote learning via exploration. Admittedly this encouragement was probably due to teachers not having enough time to answer each pupils' questions, but it was still useful - so why is it something we do not consider now we're older?

As a psychology student, I know very well that people can learn just from watching someone else's behaviour and this is called this Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977). Bandura (1961) demonstrated this ability to learn by showing that children learn to act aggressively towards certain toys (a Bobo doll) if they have witnessed an adult acting that way first. This implies that if you hang around friends who study hard, you may be more influenced to work hard too.

Peer learning has been explored for different age groups. In fact, research into peer learning tools for our generation has explored using social media, such as Facebook, to help assist learning  (Hilscher, 2014). Peer learning has also been explored as a possible tool to help older adults help each other understand safe and appropriate ways to take their medication (Chou, & Brown, 2002).

One study investigated the effectiveness of peer learning among first year students studying Nursing (Christiansen & Bell, 2010). They found that not only did it help with the challenges of their course, but it also helped reduced feelings of social isolation. Near-peer learning (where the trainer is a couple of years senior to the trainee) was found to be useful for medical students (Bulte, Betts, Garner, & Durning, 2007). Variations of peer learning may also benefit medical students in different situations (Cate & Durning, 2007). For example, similar aged peers participating in informal 1-2-1 learning may be useful for revision, whereas an older, more formal peer, who teaches a group, may be helpful for lab work.

So with all this evidence towards peer learning, showing how it can improve understanding and motivation, why not try it for yourself? You may even improve you grades. :)

Sara Jane Sutty


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582
Bulte, C., Betts, A., Garner, K., & Durning, S. (2007). Student teaching: Views of student near-peer teachers and learners. Medical Teacher, 29(6), 583-590.
Cate, O. T., & Durning, S. (2007). Dimensions and psychology of peer teaching in medical education. Medical Teacher, 29(6), 546-552.
Chou, J. Y., & Brown, C. M. (2002). Receptivity to peer teaching and peer learning about the safe and appropriate use of medications among older adults. Educational Gerontology, 28, 761-775.
Christiansen, A., & Bell, A. (2010). Peer learning partnerships: Exploring the experience of pre-registration nursing students. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19, 803-810.
Damon, W. (1984). Peer education: The untapped potential. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 5(4), 331-343.
Hilscher, J. (2014). A case study examining how students make meaning out of using Facebook as a virtual learning community at a Midwestern university (Order No. AAI3566011).

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