Peer learning is a powerful educational approach where students learn from each other formally and informally. If you’re not currently using peer-learning activities and want a preview of methods, read the blog “An Overview of Peer Learning in Adult Classrooms.”
Today’s digital tools make it easier for teachers to facilitate peer interaction in online coursework. Here are some of the ways to facilitate peer learning in online courses.
Discussion Forums and Boards
Most learning management platforms offer discussion board features, a staple of online learning for decades. Instructors can pose questions or topics, and students can discuss them, reply to each other, and delve deeper into the subject matter. However, teachers often use these forums as a default assignment that students find boring. If a meaningful discussion is important to understanding the content, teacher-facilitated discussions provide better outcomes.
Video Conferencing Breakout Rooms
Platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams allow facilitators to break a larger class into smaller groups for discussion. This type of peer interaction feels much more engaging than posting to online boards and mirrors small group discussions one might see in a face-to-face setting. Unfortunately, synchronous discussions may prove challenging in courses that offer asynchronous schedules. However, some courses find a happy medium by requiring occasional pre-scheduled online meetups.
Social Media Platforms
The use of social media in education, especially in adult online classes, has grown significantly in recent years. Many adult students are already familiar with social platforms and enjoy the informal and interactive nature of social media assignments.
For example, on Facebook, educators can create private groups for their classes. Within these groups, students can post, comment, share resources, and engage in discussions. Imagine asking students to identify a massage technique they want to learn on YouTube and sharing the link in the Facebook group. Students might make a phone video of performing a particular technique and ask their peers to give feedback on their body mechanics.
You might use Pinterest in a group project where multiple students contribute to a single board, pooling their findings and insights on an assigned topic. Similarly, students can share a one-minute presentation on a subject through Stories on Instagram. For more thoughts on this topic read “An Introduction to Social Media in Massage Classrooms.”
Peer Review Tools
Google Classroom, Moodle, Canvas, and other learning management systems have features that help teachers organize and manage the peer feedback process. If you utilize peer-review activities regularly, you may wish to explore Peergrade (www.peergrade.io) or Peerstudio (www.peerstudio.org). These sophisticated but easy-to-use platforms enable students to submit their work and have it reviewed by their peers. Peer review platforms allow teachers to set up assignments and create online rubrics that guide students in completing assignments and critiquing each other’s work. Usually, a teacher interface facilitates oversight. Students can flag peer comments they deem inappropriate and give feedback on the quality of the reviews they receive. For more information on peer review in massage classrooms, read “Ten Ways to Improve Peer Feedback in Massage Classrooms.”
Collaborative Document Editing
Online collaborative document editing tools, such as Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox Paper, allow multiple users to work on a single document simultaneously. One great idea is to have students collectively contribute to a single set of lecture notes. One student might focus on the main ideas, another on supporting details, and another on questions or areas of confusion.
Similarly, for an upcoming exam, start a collaborative study guide and require all students to add content. Students can add summaries, resources, mnemonic devices, and their own multiple-choice quiz questions.
Online Study Groups
Creating online study groups is a powerful way to foster peer learning, enhance content understanding, and build a sense of community within a cohort. Students can use online tools like Facebook groups, Zoom calls, and collaborative documents. Teachers should clearly define the weekly goals of study groups and randomly assign group members to ensure diversity.
Gamified learning uses gaming elements to engage and motivate students. Features like earning points, unlocking new levels, comparing progress with others, competitive quizzes, challenges, prizes, rewards, collaboration tasks, contests, and leaderboards can bring an element of playfulness (and competitiveness) to learning. Several online platforms focus on gamified learning, or teachers can create their own online or brick-and-mortar gamified content. Check out “An Introduction to Gamified Learning” or these platforms for ideas and solutions:
Online peer mentoring programs for adult learners harness the power of technology to facilitate supportive relationships, enhancing the educational experience for mentees and providing leadership and personal growth opportunities for mentors. Proper training for mentors, teacher support, and the right digital tools are crucial for success. Schools opting to develop peer-mentoring programs must be ready to devote significant resources to the program.
Planning and Considerations
As you plan online peer-learning activities, you’ll want to ensure that students receive training in whatever tools and platforms you use. Similarly, provide students with clear guidelines related to online interaction to maintain a respectful and productive environment. See “Student Guidelines for Online Communication” for ideas. Finally, it’s essential to choose digital tools that respect student privacy and to share with students what information online platforms gather and how they use student data.
In closing, today’s digital tools make it easier for teachers to facilitate peer interactions in online coursework. When used correctly, online peer learning is a powerful educational approach that enhances student engagement and learning.