Change classes: what if students learn from each other?


The Internet has transformed the ways of learning and accustomed individuals to share their knowledge without going through the imposed roles of the “master” and the “pupil”. Now, they expect a system similar to school or work, and need, more than before, to feel involved in their learning. Inspired by “mutual class” , the XVIII th  century, where more advanced students helped the teacher in his mission by repeating the youngest, “peer learning” is one way to meet the challenge of the XXI th century.

As its name indicates, this pedagogy allows a group to form itself by the joint research, then the sharing, of information. Everything is orchestrated by “facilitators”, using digital tools. A session always gives rise to a group production in the form of “wikis” or tutorials.

Treat the animation

The facilitator must first ensure that the best possible conditions are in place to foster group work. The first step is to define the target group for peer learning. A good peer group is not only characterized by its parity, but also its diversity , in terms of nationality and level. It is made up of people who are particularly interested in the topic in question, or have experience or expertise to share on this subject.

Then avoid the traditional layout of the classroom or conference, spreading participants in circles of up to six people in a large space. This configuration puts all participants at the same level, including more experienced people … The questions of a beginner are as valued as the skills of an expert. Attention is at the heart of the group in interactions, not to an expert.

To promote teaching within the group, the animation of interactions is essential. The instructions or “questions” will strongly guide the exchanges, and thus the learning. Ask a question is not enough, the facilitator enriches his speech with examples from his personal experience.

In the mutual class of 1800 , one of the criteria of success in teaching was the clarity of the “commandments” delivered by the oral way, the signs presented at each stage and finally the bell, to announce a next step. Today, we will make sure to display the instructions on a big screen.

Engaged students

To maintain participant engagement, it is important to break the learning topic into short sections – ideally less than 15 minutes. It is also necessary to vary the formats of activities, between time of exchanges, time of productions, and practical activities or restitution.

According to Stanislas Dehaene , a professor at the Collège de France, the feeling of progress in learning is a reward in itself. Visualizing the results of their contributions is also a key to the feeling of self-efficacy. As a first step, the facilitator can display and reread all the contributions shared by the groups on a digital tool. Then, it must ensure that participants have access to a publishing site so that they can consult or complete the results later.

This system has the advantage of helping students gain autonomy. Co-creators of the training content, the participants are fully involved. More broadly, the system is designed to be self-managed by the group. Indeed, the role of the Peer Learning Facilitator “turns” regularly. A group can design its own annual learning program. The themes of each session are decided collectively at the beginning of each program.

More efficient classroom management

Peer-to-peer learning provides directly applicable knowledge that is not written in books or theoretical training, but comes from experience. It is based on the understanding of someone with similar lived experience of another person’s learning needs. Indeed, those who have experienced the same experience can more easily show empathy vis-à-vis one ∙ e other. This type of learning allows students to discover each other on their best and to appreciate each other.

According to Jean-Pol Martin, author of the “Learn by Teaching” method, delegating pedagogical tasks to students increases learning outcomes as well as student engagement.

In addition, teachers have a lot to gain, especially for their personal well-being:

  • Manage very large classes up to 100 students without running out
  • No need to do the discipline in class
  • Face students who are involved and motivated by the subject
  • Classroom in a positive atmosphere that helps one another and collaborates
  • Save time on course content creation to refocus on instructional engineering and research.

Although more and more teachers are convinced of the effectiveness of active pedagogies, many believe that they require too much investment and creativity . It remains an important work of making available its tools and methods to truly make their lives easier.

Author Bio: Lenne Diane is Pedagogical manager of peer training programs, at EM Lyon