Teach Employees to Learn From One Another

When your team wishes to learn a new skill, where do they turn? Google? YouTube? Their corporate training programs? No. According to a study conducted by our firm, Degreed, more employees first turn to their peers (55 percent )–second only to asking their managers. Learning can be a powerful development tool which breaks through some obstacles, and it also has other advantages.

Yet several organizations have to make a formal structure for peer-to-peer learning. In a McKinsey survey, Learning & Development officials report that while classroom coaching, experiential training, and on-the-job utilization of skills now in general use learning tools, less than 50% of organizations have established any sort of formal peer-to-peer learning. One in three respondents said their companies do not have any arrangements in place to yield knowledge among workers.

In the analysis for the book The Expertise Economy, we noticed that supervisors are often reluctant to set up formal peer-to-peer learning primarily due to a perception that specialists outside the business are more worthy as educators compared to those within it and because peer applications are separated out over various sessions. Within this circumstance, sending employees to a single day of intense training from an outside expert is supposed to be productive.

It isn’t. First, peer-to-peer training covers the expertise that already exists in your company. Think of all of the wise people who you employ and surround yourself every day, and how much could be achieved if peers shared their knowledge with each other to learn and develop new skills.

Peer-to-peer learning can also be well suited to the way we learn. Individuals gain new skills best in any situation that contains all four phases of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; training by applying that knowledge; get opinions, and reflect on what’s been learned. Peer-to-peer learning includes all of them.

For instance, when Kelly was the head of learning at LinkedIn, her staff produced a peer-to-peer learning program designed around the fundamental corporate values of the company.

One section of this program focused on difficult conversations; every participant was requested to recognize a real-life hard conversation they had to have at work (particularly one they may be avoiding). They were taught about difficult conversations (phase 1); next, they practiced with each other before holding the discussions in real life (phase 2).

One of the participants, John, confronted his worker Mark about his missed deadlines, a pattern that had been negatively affecting the group. The conversation didn’t go well — John felt embarrassed, and Mark got protective. When John shared this story with his companions in the learning team, they openly shared their perspectives and ideas and their own experiences in similar situations (phase 3).

As everyone in the group — not only John — reflected what they’d learned, they concluded they had become more confident and armed with ideas about how to better manage a similar situation later on (phase 4). Later Group members indicated their difficult real-world conversations had become more productive.

The development of a learner is reliant on a willingness to make mistakes, challenge opinions, and talk about issues as John and his colleagues did in their group.

Unlike some learning methods — such as evaluations or tests, or compelling presentations of skills, peer-to-peer learning creates a space where the student can feel secure taking these risks without feeling that their performance is being assessed by their boss while they’re learning. You are more expected to have open discussions about fields you want to develop with a peer than with somebody who has power over income and your career.

In learning, the hierarchy’s dynamics disappear. And unlike other methods — such as compliance training or classroom assignments — peer-to-peer learning offers a structured chance to have these discussions to start with.

A secondary advantage of peer-to-peer learning is that the format itself helps employees develop leadership and management skills. Group reflection discussions help employees learn the intricate abilities to accept and giving honest, constructive feedback.

Because opinions flow in both directions, participants in learning often put more energy and time in ensuring the feedback they give is meaningful. They try to get specific about what’s going to be helpful and constructive, think about where each is coming from, and believe from the perspective of the peer. This will not happen as usually when a boss gives one-way feedback to workers. Likewise, peer learning gives workers experience in administration, promoting skills like empathy, and managing different points of view.

Developing a Peer Learning Program

Precise peer-to-peer learning programs can take several forms. As a supervisor, you can hold your program online or in person. Your schedule could pair participants in one-to-one sessions, build cohorts working together on real work issues over a couple of months, or involve weekly sessions where individuals share the newest knowledge they have gained with their peers with tons of time for reflection and discussion.

To make any peer-to-peer learning program prosperous for your organization, we suggest a couple of best practices:

Appoint a facilitator. Even though the structure of peer learning is horizontal instead of hierarchical, it is essential to have a neutral party who’s not the team’s supervisor to facilitate the program to maintain it on track. This individual — ideally a skilled facilitator — keep discussions moving ahead, keep everyone on topic, should arrange sessions, and keep a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.

Build a safe environment. Peer learning works when participants feel confident to share experiences, their thoughts, and questions. They have to be welcoming and vulnerable sufficient to take constructive input, and also have the strength to provide unbiased feedback instead of telling people what they desire to listen.

To construct a safe environment, set ground rules. Some suggestions: confidentiality must be respected; opinions ought to be perceived as a generous gesture which should always be met with gratitude; participants must practice compassion, placing themselves in others’ shoes; and participants shouldn’t be humiliated or mocked for expressing themselves in front of their peers.

Focus On real-world conditions. Whenever possible, these sessions should concentrate on actual problems to solve. Individuals are more inclined to engage, learn, and recall new skills if they’re learned in the course of addressing a challenge.

Encourage networking. It will help to set up online social networks about learning, plan networking events for individuals to consider their field of expertise, and build learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas. Some companies create company-wide campaigns to make everyone involved.

With a well-organized peer-to-peer learning program in place as a complement to more conventional learning programs, your team will build permanent skills and relationships that will enable them to convey the skills they learn in those programs into their everyday work.

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