The Future of Learning and Development is Peer-to-Peer

Jen Jackson

 

As the business landscape shifts and change becomes the new constant, the traditional model of a three to five-year higher education spent learning technical skills, followed by a forty-year career spent applying them, is no longer serving us.

Technology, artificial intelligence and automation; volatile, fast-paced business environments; and up to two-decades longer in the workforce are driving the need for continuous lifelong learning.

Career changes are increasingly commonplace, many requiring considerable reskilling and re-education. Existing professions are also evolving, as specific roles and tasks are automated, and value is delivered in other areas. And entirely new professions are emerging, many of which have no formal curriculum.

Forward-thinking higher-education institutions are now offering courses that equip graduates with the skills for a future that might involve multiple career paths, rather than a single career in a specific discipline.

Increasingly, though, the responsibility for learning and development is moving beyond institutions and falling on individuals and organisations.

With more change and less time, we need to rethink how learning and development experiences are delivered and how they integrate into the overall employee experience. And one of the best methods is peer-to-peer learning.

 

 

Long-term sustainability

Learning and development is rapidly growing in importance as a business function, though in the future, its value will go beyond delivering knowledge, to empowering others with the skills needed to teach each other.

According to Glassdoor, the average business in the United States spends roughly USD$4000 per hire and takes up to 52 days to fill a position — a cost far better invested in learning and development.

It makes sense to hold onto good people, transitioning them out of redundant roles and reskilling them to fit new positions, rather than adopting a cycle of firing and hiring. People are being valued on cultural fit and personal skills, more than the ability to perform a specific technical role.

As the demand for learning escalates, employing external consultants to roll-out training is becoming unsustainable. The sheep-dipping approach of running everyone through the same content as quickly as possible was never regarded with particular fondness. But with increased demand for bespoke learning experiences, it’s no longer a viable investment.

Bringing learning and development inhouse tantalises with substantial savings in time, productivity and dollars. In 2010, British Telecom reported savings of USD$12,000,000 annually by adopting open-source learning solutions and peer learning.

These savings are better invested in building capability in leaders: the psychology of learning, human-centred communication, fostering psychological safety, and facilitation techniques. These are areas leaders aren’t traditionally trained in, and possessing technical knowledge doesn’t equate to being able to pass them on to others. However, once these additional skills have been learned, they can be applied over an entire career.

Teaching promotes learning

It’s well established that teaching is an effective way to learn and embed existing knowledge.

A recent study led by psychologist Aloysius Wei Lun Koh suggests peer learning is effective because it forces the teacher to retrieve content they’ve previously learned. This repetition strengthens neural connections; a premise studying is based on.

Articulating knowledge also requires a thorough understanding of the subject matter. It’s possible to have in-depth expertise, but explaining it concisely to others quickly, identifies any gaps in the teacher’s knowledge. It also requires a greater understanding of context — the reason why we do it.

Additionally, a constant cycle of learning and teaching fosters an environment where curiosity, learning and feedback are encouraged.

A social experience

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report discovered a high demand for social learning experiences at work, with over half of each generation valuing the ability to collaborate with instructors and peers while learning.

Peer learning delivers on this demand, translating to improved learning outcomes. 

Research from Michigan State University found students performed better when peers provided the context for learning. While students who received a peer rationale wrote better essays and received the highest final grades, students who received a scripted rationale from an instructor performed worse than receiving no rationale at all.

Study co-author Cary Roseth suggests these results show that while instructors are good at communicating facts, peers tap into an identification process. They give the material additional meaning and purpose — a relatable narrative — beyond mere memorisation.

The benefits of peer learning aren’t only educational, though, they’re social as well. A shared learning experience fosters inclusion, trust, and collaboration.

A study led by Cynthia Rohrbeck found peer learning in school systems helped minority groups integrated better and increased the likelihood of continued positive interactions. 

We also tend to trust our peers and leaders more than external consultants or trainers. These are the people we’ve built a rapport with, who understand our work and its challenges. 

LinkedIn found people primarily discover the skills they need to improve or progress through the direction or guidance of their manager. Seventy-five per cent would take a course assigned by their manager, while 46 per cent cited their manager or leadership as a source of learning opportunities.

Good leaders know their people better than anyone and are in a unique position to personalise learning opportunities based on individual strengths and skills gaps.

Higher expectations

Our expectations for content-sharing have grown. We can sign-up to incredible learning experiences online — often for free. Meanwhile, many workplaces are still hampered by outdated learning management systems (LMSs) and technical content cobbled together and distributed as uninspiring documents.

Fortunately, LMSs are gradually being replaced by learning experience platforms (LXPs). Where LMSs have typically focused on rules, compliance and management, LXPs are more flexible and engaging, mirroring technologies we use daily, like social platforms and streaming video. Content can be sorted into channels or playlists based on a topic, skill or learning objective. It can be shared, rated, recommended or commented on.

This new technology gives people a familiar way to develop and share work-related content with their peers.