Peeragogy Techniques- Organizing a learning context

October 31, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share

Peeragogy Techniques: Organizing a learning context


Part VI of the Peeragogy Handbook deals with organizing learning contexts. The authors begin by defining learning courses and learning spaces, differentiating the first by specifying that it entails a syllabus and timeline. Two main types of characteristics define learning platforms, which support learning spaces: development trajectories and platform features. These characteristics for a given learning space are both its weaknesses and its strengths. They describe obstacles like scarce resources that the group needs to overcome as well as strengths like connectivity or flexibility.

The authors describe some case studies of peeragogical processes: the U.S. Army’s After Action Report system for reviewing training exercises and the Peeragogy Project’s surveys of participating students. Both case studies led to specific insights, but the authors downplay any possibility of a “grand narrative” of peer learning. Instead, the best takeaway might be those insights and how they can apply to a particular co-learning project. Some of the more important insights include the idea of forming participants into teams, developing a process to prioritize ideas, emphasizing sufficiently good ideas over perfect, but unachievable ones, and collecting the perspective of every participant, even the ones who leave. A survey of participants can address many of these issues, and developing and maintaining THE SURVEY can itself be a feedback cycle for learning about the group and the project.

The authors next analyze the use of activities as a way to provide structure. Structure is a two-edged sword for learning. It can be a guide and a way to focus effort, but structure can also constrict learning, impose an external constraint on free and open interaction. The peeragogy context can take advantage of structure but also lends itself well to a lack of structure, in that its mass appeal and potentially unlimited audience are well-suited to peer discussion without boundaries as well as guided coursework. The Peeragogy Handbook details how to use activities as a source of structure that can inform as well as guide the group. One important consideration is that nobody should plan activities as if they were leading them like a teacher- they should plan activities as if they were a participant like any other. The essence of peer co-learning is that there are no overarching teachers, only peers working together. One strength of peer learning is that the lack of A COURSE structure means there is no reason for everyone to engage in the same activities at the same time. Some people can lead discussions, others can work on their own, and still others can work on designing engaging content that others can use to learn. Every participant will have their own strengths that allow them to have one activity they do best- allow people to use their strengths for the good of the group as a whole.

While not all peeragogy projects need a syllabus, the Handbook’s 18th chapter contains a discussion of how allowing the students to create a syllabus can aid the peer learning project. Different group members will have different levels of experience in both the subject matter and teaching itself, so forming groups where knowledgeable members can teach the inexperienced ones is helpful for both parties. However, it is important to make sure that nobody is actually a full, authoritative teacher. The goal of peer learning is for peers to teach one another, not for one PERSON to teach others their interpretation of the material. Students can decide how to structure their discussions, how to set milestones, how to examine topics and subfields, how to structure assessments, and any other terms the group wishes to discuss. These are not iron rules laid down at the beginning of the course. They are mutable. The group can and should modify or add to the syllabus as the course evolves. The syllabus is made to serve the students, not the other way around.

The Massively Open ONLINE COURSE, or MOOC, is the common example of a peer-driven learning platform, and the Handbook includes a chapter explaining how to set up such a course, with suggestions for anything from useful software tools to philosophical goals. Creating an Internet space that is appropriate to the goals of the course is difficult due to the sheer breadth of options. The best approach is to go with a combination of the familiar and the new, so students can take advantage of new tools while engaging in an environment they know and which makes them feel welcome.
The organization portion concludes with a chapter of case studies about the concept of collaborative explorations. CEs weave the peer learning activities of processing, contributing, and connecting to build a course run by peers, for peers. The participation and feedback of every member determines both the direction and content of the course, from syllabus to individual lecture.

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