Any learning and development professional can prescribe 20 ways for people to learn stuff at work. They will talk of platforms, e-learning, micro-learning, webinars, training, and much more. While those all have a place, there is a powerful method that we all know – but sometimes forget. Humans learn from each other. Peer learning at work leverages one of the ways humans have always learned – but it isn’t always expected or supported.
What is Peer Learning?
Peer learning occurs anytime we learn directly through an interaction with a colleague. It can include on-the-job training, shadowing someone, peer coaching and even spontaneous and casual conversation. Even if we know what it is, we might not realize or remember how powerful it is.
Peer learning, facilitated by what we call learning partners, can be extremely effective as a part of any learning process. Whether formally or informally, great things can happen when we provide a way to create those learning partnerships.
Benefits of Peer Learning
- Creation of learning goals. When you pair people up as learning partners, you can encourage them to set goals for their growth and development. If learning partners are formed in connection with other training and learning events, those goals may already exist. In this case, the partnership is meant to help each person reach those goals.
- Increased accountability. When both partners have goals, the partnership can provide a tremendous accountability opportunity for both partners.
- Improved peer support. People need to talk to someone who understands their work situation. Having a peer to share with, receive encouragement from, and more can be extremely valuable. Especially if the team is remote or hybrid – people can have a hard time finding this support at work.
- Learning through dialogue. We gain understanding and learn things when we can talk them out. Having a person to share ideas with, review successes and failures with, and just to talk to can be a useful part of the learning process.
- Relationship and trust building. As a connection between learning partners grows, a relationship likely builds too. People often report that their learning partner becomes a trusted ally. When the partners are in different work groups, it can create new synergy for teams too.
- Enhancing application of other learning. Adding a learning partner component to other learning processes is one of the best ways to enhance the application of what has been learned. A learning partnership becomes a place to collaborate and more fully understand and apply the newly acquired knowledge.
- Building coaching skills. When people talk to each other about work issues/challenges and sharing goals, they are informally coaching each other. Organizational improvement is more likely when people at all levels have better coaching skills. The stronger the bricks, the stronger the foundation.
- Cultivating a culture of learning. Many people talk about wanting to have a learning culture. Set the tone with peer learning partnerships whose goal is to learn from and with each other.