4 peer-to-peer learning strategies for college students

Peer-to-peer learning strategies help college students better understand classroom material. Of course the teacher or professor is valuable to your education, as is classroom work. But did you know that you can learn from other students as well?

The technology sandbox encourages peer-to-peer learning in a laboratory. (Credit: Marc Hall, North Carolina State University)

The technology sandbox encourages peer-to-peer learning in a laboratory. (Credit: Marc Hall, North Carolina State University)

You can improve your academics on a test or term paper by engaging in group discussions, explaining material to your fellow students or arranging a study retreat.

1. Explain the lesson to other students

Maybe your friend has trouble understanding the material, devising the solution to a problem, or finding the meaning in a case study discussed in class. They just need a fellow student to put it all in simple terms. You can help them by going over the lesson together and explaining it clearly and concisely. This helps you two ways: you gain a better understanding yourself, and helping others boosts your confidence.

Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D., explained in “Five Things Students Can Learn through Group Work,” posted March 20, 2013, in Faculty Focus: “When students are trying to explain things to each other, to argue for an answer, or to justify a conclusion, that interaction clarifies their own thinking and often it clarifies the thinking of other students.”

2. Participate in peer instruction

Similar to explaining the lesson (above), peer instruction is when college students conduct group discussions in the classroom. Often professors who are experts in their field cannot step back and pretend that they are learning the material for the first time, the way college students are learning it. Their instructions can still go over the heads of novice students. This is where peer instruction comes in. The students who do understand the lesson get into group discussions with students who are having difficulty so they can put the lesson in their own words to gain comprehension.

Eric Mazur, professor of physics at Harvard University, had explained a difficult concept in class that not everyone understood. Then he told his students to discuss the question with each other. “And something happened in my classroom which I had never seen before,” he said, in “Rethinking the Way College Students Are Taught,” by Emily Hanford, posted on American RadioWorks. “The entire classroom erupted in chaos. They were dying to explain it to one another and to talk about it.” After a few minutes of talking to each other, most of the students gained a much better understanding of the concept. “The 50 percent who had the right answer effectively convinced the other 50 percent,” he said.

3. Organize a study retreat

If you have the time, a study retreat is an effective way to study. Get together several students who are studying the same topic or working on the same project. Bring essays, book chapters, research assignments, etc., whatever you need. Relocate for a day or two or just an afternoon to a quiet refuge removed from your typical learning environment – a friend’s house, outdoors, a café, a campground. This change of scenery will actually help you concentrate more.

In the 2005 book How to Be a Student: 100 Great Ideas and Practical Habits for Students Everywhereauthors Sarah Moore and Maura Murphy explained how beneficial study retreats can be: “Most [participants] … say that it’s because they have changed their environment and because they have given themselves the opportunity to achieve total focus, with the help of a small community of supporters, each on their own learning quest, and each supporting others through help, ideas and discussions.”

4. Review your draft

Students can show each other the draft of a report or term paper. A second pair of eyes is always valuable at the draft stage. Your friend can help you: see if everything in the report makes sense, check if there is anything missing, suggest material that could be added to make the paper stronger, and see if your argument could be more convincing. At the proofreading stage, your friend could help you check for spelling and grammar.

For more information, check out Questia’s library on Education. 

What are some other things you can learn from peer instruction?

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