Understanding Peer-to-Peer Learning

Most organizations offer a variety of educational tools to their employees from formal in-person or virtual classes and self-paced e-learning to informal lunch & learns and mentoring programs. With technology helping to speed the democratization of knowledge transfer, access to resources is becoming less of an issue.

These days the biggest blocker to employee education is peoples’ free time and the dedication required to spend what little they have on self-improvement. With all the options competing for headspace, deciding which vehicle to use can be difficult. One medium to consider, which combines the cost effectiveness of self-directed learning and the collaboration benefits of the classroom is peer-to-peer learning.

Formal Programs

Some companies leverage experienced staff to conduct formal classroom style programs. Classic examples are the resident numbers guru teaching finance for non-financial managers or the marketing leader offering a session on social media. This option can be incredibility impactful, but it requires organizers to confirm that instructors have:

  1. Subject Matter Expertise required to lead the session. To do so, they should look beyond titles and formal degrees and strive to discover unexpected excellence. For example, you may have a project manager who is also professional speaker and more than qualified to teach a communications course
  2. Teaching Ability and platform time to ensure the individual is comfortable in an instructor role. This requires event organizers to gently vet skill sets through teach-backs (simulated practice lessons).

Coordinators of peer-to-peer learning events can get around these challenges by “pulling” information from their subject matter experts via podcast-like interviews or breaking down the lessons with quick YouTube-style demos. This style of knowledge transfer results in a win-win. Employees can take ownership of their development via accessible learning platforms and instructors can increase their value to the organization by institutionalizing their skills and experiences.

Informal Programs

As you might expect, informal peer-to-peer learning events occur naturally in an organization among everchanging employee networks. For example, when “everyone” knows that Katie is the data guru, Scott is the whiz on PowerPoint, and Jill is the ultimate idea person, those who want to learn these skills will be naturally drawn to these informal leaders.

While this is a solid start, forward-thinking leaders will take time to notice and follow those network pathways so they can more fully develop and leverage them. For their part, seasoned HR professionals can use these just-in-time connections to supplement formal talent management processes and identify rising stars.

The trick is to find the right balance. Formal mentoring programs tend to die on the vine and completely informal ones seem to be only open to “those in the know.” Rather than overengineer what is, by definition, an informal medium or adopt an apathetic “wait and hope” approach, HR can take steps to make informal learning (and teaching) part of the company’s culture. If done effectively, participation will ramp up naturally over time.

ROI of Peer-to-Peer Learning

There are a number of benefits to the organization including, lower training costs, shorter employee development time, and higher engagement. Peer-to-peer learning programs also help uncover leaders at all levels, increase organizational knowledge, and create valuable connections across departments, generations, and backgrounds – the true mark of diversity of thought.

Employees also benefit from these programs via greater connections to leaders, safe and expedient avenues to advance their skills, and an opportunity to showcase their talents and help others in return.

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