Why Peer Learning is so effective

On the occasion of our first podcast WeTestEd, we had the opportunity to chat with Diane Lenne, CEO of the startup We Are Peers.

We Are Peers is one of the Edtech startups currently in vogue in France. It must be said that they propose an innovative, effective and damn promising solution.

What are they doing ? They develop Peer Learning within companies, in business schools and universities. They do this by hosting live sessions of Peer Learning and by offering a platform to manage peer learning projects, like a sort of LMS.

TestWe: In your opinion, which are the most innovative between companies and institutions of Higher Education?

Diane: It depends! What I can say is that with the companies it goes much faster, it is generally them who contact us to integrate the Peer Learning as quickly as possible. While with schools, it is we who must put ourselves in a position of proactive research and we must do a real job of education to reassure them in the benefits of our methods. But that’s also why we started on these two very different profiles.

T: Do you have the same observation regarding the results of your projects with clients? That is, do you get positive results earlier in the businesses or in the educational institutions?

D: Well the results are observable after a single session. So in this case it’s the same for companies as for schools.

T: 3 advantages and 3 disadvantages of Peer Learning?

D: So concerning the benefits I would say that:

  • it’s a pedagogy that is very empowering
  • it greatly favors the engagement of learners
  • there is a knowledge acquisition that seems to be much more effective than with other pedagogic methods

The inconvenients :

  • it’s very technical and it requires a whole lot of organization
  • it takes a lot of energy in the animation of the sessions, you always have to keep up the pace
  • you have to be able to let go and know how to underpin valuable information from learners

T: Should peer learning, in your opinion, replace a more traditional form of pedagogy like lecturing?

D: No I do not think so, I’d rather say it should be complementary. We can say what we want, the lecturing remains a method that can be very, very effective!

T: Let’s talk about MOOCs. I do not know if you could see a bit of the disco on this subject right now, but overall we wonder if the MOOCs are a failed promise, a success … What do you think?

D: MOOCs are an innovation among others. For me it brings accessibility, but it does not change the course pedagogy. Moreover, the average completion rate is not great, around 13%. Finally, generally, MOOCs are very effective but only for a minority of people who are usually the most “educated”. So yes, it is an excellent innovation but must remain complementary to a more global educational strategy.

T: Are you aware of other uses of Peer Learning, observations about its effectiveness, elsewhere?

D: Yes! It must be known that this pedagogy is not new. The first, it seems to me, is the mutual class. This type of class allows children to learn to read and write in less than 3 years versus 5 years for traditional classes. But for ideological reasons this method was abandoned, especially because it called into question the place and authority of the teacher. Today some educators put the mutual class up to date like Vincent Faillet.

T: Could you tell us about a success story that marked you with We Are Peers?

D: Yes! You have to know that every success is the result of a collective work. Now for me a success story would be that of the course we created at EM Lyon Business School, which is still in progress. It is self-managed by the students and passed on to each other, ie the students of one session become the facilitators, the facilitators of the next. Some students have even become Peer Learning session facilitators in business. It was their internship or even their first job! I am thinking in particular of one of them who became part-time facilitator in a company of which he was a minority shareholder although still a student. He has facilitated sessions with more than 50 people, which has clearly offered him the opportunity to learn and proactively illustrate his skills, it is an example of empowerment! Beyond that, he also accompanied other courses at EM Lyon ?

T: What do you do when a student is simply not engaged nor excited by the peer learning session? Does it happen often?

D: Yes it happens sometimes, inevitably. But it’s absolutely not a problem. First, we try to figure out if this student might kill the vibe of the group. So basically we just go and see them talk and tell them? Are you feeling ok with this? If not what’s the problem? And you know this course isn’t mandatory so if you don’t want to come back, please do. In most cases, we try to motivate them in other ways and by explaining them more clearly what the exercises are about. But you know sometimes students feel simply too disrupted and you just have to let them go.

To be sure everyone wants to be part of this course, we ask students to prepare a cover letter to show their interest in that type of learning experiment… And it’s quite effective!

T: What do you think about the skills gap impacting Higher Education? Do you think it’s real? If so, then what’s the reason of this skills gap according to you?

D: Obviously it exists and I think it’s because of the slowness of the educational system. It takes too much time to renew pedagogical programs and curricula. Take for example entrepreneurship. Ok, today you have many programs and courses of entrepreneurship but it’s not enough. We need more focus on data and growth techniques, we need to teach students pragmatic activities in a way that facilitates self-renewal. However, it’s changing and schools are aware of this. The thing is, students could learn much faster rather than spending two years on fundamentals.

T: What’s your advice for Higher Education?

D: Alright I’ll answer to that question in four points:

  • Stop ignoring pedagogic innovations and models that work like Vincent Faillet’s. Schools should spot these pedagogic innovations and test them through pilots programs. It’s the case in Finland for example.
  • Change the classes environment and rooms’ designs to make it more adapted for engaging sessions.
  • Then, I think it’s worth wondering why Higher education exists and what are its values and goals today.
  • Finally, it would be interesting to work and teach around grand themes. It’s what we call phenomenal education, it’s very much used in Finland now, and the goal is to teach several subjects (geography, math, history, economics, neuroscience etc.) through one theme, one set in an interdisciplinary way.

More and more business schools are trying the We Are Peers experience, such as Rennes Business School or more recently Grenoble School of Management on a geopolitical theme. We Are Peers is a figurehead of Edtech and Transformation and we recommend you to take a look at what they do.

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