You’ve heard that student-centered learning and using groups in the classroom is an effective way to reach learners, and you’ve read some tips on encouraging meaningful interaction in online discussion, but let’s focus on the value that active learning in groups affords your students.

In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, authors Svinicki and McKeachie outline why peer learning works. They point to a number of sources that underline the idea that, “an effective partner can act as a model of useful strategies as well as a teacher.” (Svinicki and McKeachie, 192) What they point out is that peer learning offers certain advantages that differ from what an instructor may be able to provide. Peer learning has a motivational aspect to it. By knowing that you’re a member of a peer group, you may think more about your responsibility to its overall success as a motivational factor to completing work well and on-time. It also gives students opportunities to expand on their ideas as they talk through them with a peer or peers who can help more fully shape their view and give them the tools to articulate their stance.

The authors also point out that there are several techniques when it comes to peer learning – and that many suggest that students spend time not only summarizing and explaining, but also take time to listen. To reach success in peer learning communities, students should express their opinions, explain their views, listen to fellow students as they do the same, share questions, and ask for clarification when they need it. Learning in groups requires that students tap into not only their knowledge of the subject area, but also their interpersonal skills. So, encouraging peer learning in your course helps students grow socially and cognitively, while giving you another avenue to explore as you foster learning. (pp. 191-193)


Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.