Why peer-to-peer learning might soon come into its own

Peer-to-peer learning relaxes the classroom environment while still facilitating progress, writes student Alfie Payne

Alfie Payne

Coronavirus: Peer-to-peer learning could come into its own in schools and colleges next year, writes student Alfie Payne

I love the concept of peer-to-peer learning. In fact, I love it so much that back in secondary school when I was in Year 9, I convinced the senior leadership team to let me work with our team of digital leaders to design and implement an off-curriculum day, designed to teach Year 7 students about internet safety.

It was called "Cyber Day" and had a simple enough structure – students in Years 8-10 taught their younger peers (with classroom management support from form tutors) about topics like cyberbullying, online gaming safety, "netiquette" (how to write emails, etc) and social media safety. I wanted to do it like this because I truly felt it would be a more effective way of getting information across to my peers, rather than being delivered by our typical teachers. And it was – the feedback from students was great.

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Engaging activities

The feedback was that the activities in the session were engaging. That the PowerPoints were laid out in an attractive way. That they spent the day having fun, and that they truly felt like they had learned something. Of course, this could all have been taught by their normal teachers, but if you are honest, would you feel comfortable explaining how to be safe while sending streaks on Snapchat?

This is, of course, just one example of peer-to-peer learning. Peer mentoring, for example, is another proven method for increasing student collaboration. But the common theme among all peer-to-peer programmes is that people on both sides benefit: with the Cyber Day, the digital leaders improved their social and communication skills. The Year 7s improved their knowledge of internet safety.

As I have started to see friends again and socialise, one thing has become abundantly clear: for someone who typically identifies as a "people person", I am really struggling with seeing people. It just feels draining and like a pressure I have not experienced before – sometimes I do not open messages for two or three days because I cannot face replying to them. When I do pluck up the emotional energy to feel like seeing friends and not just working, I realise just how much I need it.

It feels like I can feel the serotonin being produced. I am back to making memories, having fun, laughing and smiling. Just like how things should be. I had expected to "bounce back" after lockdown, but it's clear that's not going to be the case – it is going to be a while before I feel like the sociable person I identified as back when the coronavirus was just an international affair.

Which has made me realise that adjusting back to the "new normal" for college in September is not going to be straightforward either, for me at least. Of course, that is not going to be the case for everyone – I know of some people who have really thrived because of the lockdown.

Which is exactly why peer-to-peer learning has the opportunity to really come into its own next year. It relaxes the classroom environment, making it feel more friendly, while still facilitating learning. It does not have to be at a large scale, but an increase in group projects or different subject areas working together on projects. There's more opportunity than ever for Year 12s to work with Year 13s – we're levelled like never before: we've been out the classroom for over six months, and we're re-entering into an environment and in a way that's likely to be so different, it may as well be brand new to us all. So, we may as well navigate it, learning through it, together. Surely?

Alfie Payne is a media student from Hampshire

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