Peer Learning Techniques-Peeragogy and Convening a Strong Group

October 24, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share

The Peeragogy Project is dedicated to disseminating peer learning techniques in an open source and open access fashion. Their Peeragogy Handbook lays out several ways to ensure that a peer learning endeavor will succeed. One of the more important chapters concerns a stage of planning peer learning near the beginning of the process: convening a group.
Because peer learning relies on assembling like-minded and dedicated peers, putting a group together requires insight and planning. Peer learning is powerful when all learners participate and build on one another’s abilities, but it can also be a waste of time if the learners don’t participate, spread incorrect information, or otherwise fail to contribute. Convening a strong group is a necessary part of setting the stage for optimal peer learning.

The Handbook emphasizes the importance of direction and motivation when convening a peeragogy group. A useful device for keeping direction in mind is to review the six questions at the heart of journalism, and INDEED, of any directed project: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Each of these defines an important facet of group formation. “Who” helps members keep track of their roles and the roles they need to fill with new members, as well as the personalities of each participant. People are not interchangeable- everyone has their own skill set and their own areas that need improvement, and group formation should account for that. “What” concerns the goal of the peer project and its motivation. The group needs to have an explicit mission to stay focused and intact, not only to overcome obstacles but also to prevent apathy from overtaking members of the group. It’s also important to have a defined goal in order to prevent “feature creep”: the adding on of more and more new ideas and goals to a project until none of them are feasible. “When” is a practical concern. The group needs to ensure its members will be able to commit time and energy to the project. It also needs to recognize that everyone has different resources and commitments, so traditional group ideas like weekly meetings might need adjustment to fit the needs of the group. “Where” is a question about the process of the project. Work is not just about reaching the goal. The entire benefit of peer learning rests in the way peers educate themselves and each other at the same time, taking advantage of feedback cycles to boost the whole group’s achievements. The time spent working on the project should be rewarding based on its own merits, not just because it gets the project closer to being done. “Why” is a critical question of usage. For every tool or methodology the group uses, there should be an answer to the question of “Why are we using this, rather than something else?” There might be alternatives that serve the group better. Efficiency isn’t everything, but saving time through a useful technology resource or learning method can help with group retention, motivation, and progress. “How” is another question about process. The group needs to decide how to set objectives, how to discuss materials and methods, how to access the proper tools, how to discuss progress, and other matters related to group dynamics. The group needs to have a way to evaluate its own successes and failures that allows for everyone to contribute without becoming a cacophony that accomplishes nothing.

The Peeragogy Handbook also notes that all groups will experience a cyclical pattern. Some old members will leave, new ones will join, periodic changes to the mission may occur. All of this is normal. No group will remain the same for the duration of an entire project. As long as the group stays on track and makes progress, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to finish. The important thing is to stick to the original vision of the group, even when the membership changes. That core idea guiding the work keeps everyone WORKING TOGETHER for a unified goal. If the natural cycles of growth dilute this vision, then the project risks petering out. Without a uniting idea, the group members are nothing more than hobbyists, each furthering their own personal goals at the expense of the group learning process.

Convening a group is more than just a matter of gathering some interested friends together. Peeragogy requires commitment and effort. Some people may express interest at the start, only to fade away once the project starts. This is normal; people change or their situations change. The key is to settle on the ground rules for the group at the beginning, and then stick to them. Even if the rules are imperfect, they are at least a consistent and steadfast guide. It is better to have rules and risk them becoming outdated than have a hodgepodge of ad hoc decisions. Going through the six questions can help determine how to structure the group and its goals. But selecting who will be part of the initial team is just as important. While ideally a peer-driven group would be open access, at the start it might be wise to restrict membership to a few founders who have the motivation and vision to get the project off to a strong start. Then incorporate more outside help once the foundations have been laid. It isn’t easy to get a peer group started, and it’s even harder to keep one going. But the REWARDS of maintaining interest in a common goal allow every member to benefit from each other, producing results that would have been impossible for any individual. Convening is the first step to that goal.


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