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In praise of peer learning

EducationWorld January 2020 | Teacher-2-teacher

peer learningpeer learning - Michal BorkowskiWhenever you struggle with a problematic question, whether in school or at home, you reflexively turn to your friends for help, before initiating a conversation with your teachers, tutors, or parents about it. Have you ever wondered why? While comfort level is one of the prime reasons, it’s also because you feel that your friend may have undergone or is experiencing a similar struggle, and may know the whats, whys, and hows of the question/problem better. The relatively tedious and disinteresting process of learning at school could turn into an insightful and enjoyable process if you learn from and with your peers.

This is not just one’s personal experience, but a widely acknowledged and appreciated learning process normative in the gurukul tradition of ancient India. It’s self-evident that learning becomes a more active and engaging process when students are involved in empowering themselves as well as each other. Moreover, with online learning platforms multiplying, the ease of community learning is greater than ever before. It not only helps students to grow academically, it also facilitates friendship and development of life skills.

There’s no shortage of research studies which prove that community learning significantly improves the efficiency of learning processes. This is because exploring differing solutions in a supportive environment results in rational reasoning and prompts students to observe, analyse, question, and dig deeper. Peer learning also enables multi-dimensional understanding as it is driven by deliberation and clarification of ideas and concepts. Moreover, since this approach exposes students to disparate viewpoints, it also stimulates critical thinking.

Therefore, community or peer learning enhances one’s analytical and problem-solving skills, while simultaneously spurring creativity. This is especially true of the digital space, which provides access and enables interaction with the smartest students countrywide and even worldwide, leading to enhanced learning experiences.

An unfortunate reality of the contemporary global academic scenario is that there are many countries and societies in which students and learners in general don’t have access to good quality school and higher education. Given this inequitable scenario, online community learning platforms can play a highly effective role in democratising access to acceptable quality education.

For instance, learners residing in remote rural areas, where the education infrastructure is shambolic and well-qualified teachers are rare, can access vast treasure troves of knowledge readily available on digital platforms. This way, students/learners also get the opportunity to interact with their peers world over and acquire greater awareness and understanding of concepts and subjects.

Community and peer-to-peer learning also offers an excellent opportunity for students to develop well-rounded personalities. Learning at one’s own pace and in each individual’s unique style while keeping up with peers, is highly motivational, enhances one’s accountability and encourages self-reliance and time management. Moreover, as students/learners become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses through self as well as interpersonal assessment, they are likely to develop new interests through exchange of ideas and information. Peer-to-peer interaction with globally diverse learners and scholars also develops social skills, indispensable in the rapidly crystallising global economy.

With global digital platforms connecting students/learners from widely divergent socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, skill sets, passions, and information, questions or problems raised can elicit varying answers from diverse perspectives. Such exchange of knowledge and ideas is certain to promote international peace and goodwill. As students inspire and get inspired, empathise with far-removed peers, and celebrate diversity, learning outcomes become enriched. Moreover, the online space also offers the additional perk of anonymity. While this may not seem like a strong pro-peer-learning argument, there are learners who are apprehensive about asking questions, owing to fear of being ridiculed. Online communities help destigmatise this process for such students, enabling them to overcome their inhibitions in a supportive community under the veil of anonymity, if preferred.

A mutually supportive environment where learners don’t judge and everyone is more than willing to answer your questions and help resolve your academic problems can hardly be faulted. Fortunately, increasingly sophisticated online peer-to-peer community learning platforms are enabling this ideal scenario, helping students build strong learning communities that support learners to improve their academic, social and life skills.

(Michal Borkowski is the founder-CEO of the Krakow (Poland) and New York-based Brainly Inc)

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