Peer to peer learning has long been used as an effective method for school, college and university students, but remains somewhat neglected in the world of apprenticeships. In a time when apprentices are even less likely to engage with each other on day-release programmes, it is useful to consider what the benefits are of peer to peer learning for apprentices and how this type of active learning can be practically utilised within such settings.
The Benefits of Peer to Peer Learning for Apprentices
Active learning is "a method of learning in which students are actively or experientially involved in the learning process" (Bonwell & Eison 1991). As many apprentices have chosen the apprenticeship pathway because they found traditional, academic settings less engaging, it seems logical that apprentices will particularly benefit from active learning, rather than passive learning (such as direct instruction, lectures and books). By getting apprentices to engage with their apprenticeship work through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other peer-to-peer methods, they are able to increase their understanding through mutual feedback and a shared discourse. Teaching other people is often seen as one of the deepest forms of learning and is something that apprentices can really benefit from.
Skills and Behaviours
As apprenticeships involve the development of skills and behaviours, as well as knowledge, it is clear that peer to peer learning can enhance apprentices’ experience, far beyond learning facts and information. Key features of many apprenticeship standards are competencies such as communication skills and relationship building. In addition, participation in the workplace rarely involves simply taking instructions from above. It is usually a complex interaction of people at a range of levels, sharing ideas, building rapport, and negotiating and influencing others to get the best outcome. Engaging in peer to peer learning, gives apprentices the opportunity to improve their skills in these areas, that they can then take back and apply in the workplace.
Apprentices can also learn from each other to find solutions to challenges outside of their direct apprenticeship studies, and even in their own personal lives. This can be particularly useful where apprentices find themselves as the only apprentice within a smaller business, where there can be a significant age and/or experience gap between the apprentice and other employees. Instead of feeling isolated, peer to peer learning gives apprentices the opportunity to engage with other individuals who are facing the same challenges and anxieties, as well as celebrating the same successes and triumphs. The typical lack of peer to peer engagement within the world of apprenticeships leads many young people to choose the college and university route, even when it isn’t right for them, just because they want this social interaction. Increasing peer to peer learning in apprenticeships would allow such individuals to make a more balanced decision about which pathway would be most useful for them.
Apprenticeships can no longer be viewed as a form of training that enables the achievement of a single apprenticeship framework or standard. They must set up individuals with the skills that will allow them to continue to develop and learn as they progress in their current career, and even when they change career pathways altogether. If apprenticeships include a full range of learning methods – self-directed, coach-led and peer to peer, this puts the individual in a far better position to be able to do this successfully. By making apprentices feel empowered to be accountable for setting their own goals and navigating their own learning journey, they are far more likely to continue these practices in the years and decades that follow the completion of their apprenticeship qualification.
Socially Distanced Peer to Peer Learning
Apprenticeships with a day release delivery model have allowed for peer to peer learning, with apprentices from different employers studying the same qualification, to come together once a week or every couple of weeks, to undertake classroom-based activities. Over recent years, blended delivery models, where the apprenticeship is delivered entirely in the workplace, have become far more common. The events over the last six months also mean that many providers previously offering day-release have already, or imminently will, move over to blended delivery models. So how can peer to peer learning be implemented in the apprentice’s workplace?
Some bigger employers and, in particular, levy payers, often employ cohorts of apprentices at one time. We have many examples of law firms and public sector organisations which take on multiple apprentices across different departments at regular intervals throughout the year. Peer to peer learning is easier in these sorts of situations, where the employer and the training provider have the opportunity to physically bring the apprentices together for training and learning sessions.
But we also have many employers who only take on one apprentice at a time. At Damar we have recently redesigned our training delivery plans to significantly increase the amount of group workshops we offer. Using Microsoft Teams or Zoom, we have been able to successfully use peer to peer learning with apprentices across different employers and across the whole of the country. As well as enhancing the learning experience of the apprentice, this delivery model also allows our coaches and subject experts to interact more regularly with apprentices, breaking down learning into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Discussion forums are another great opportunity for apprentices to engage in peer to peer learning. Without meeting face to face, apprentices can ask questions, help others and provide mutual feedback and support. Damar Training have now instigated discussion forums across all of our apprenticeship provision. Apprentices often raise questions that others may be thinking but are too scared to ask and the forum is an opportunity for information to be shared with everyone on a particular programme, at the same time in the same way. A great recent example of peer to peer learning in our paralegal discussion forum was a post by an apprentice who had undertaken the timed assessment for her end-point assessment. She was able to share with other apprentices some of the basic feedback she had received, to help them prepare for their own EPAs in the future.
If you’d like to find out more about how Damar Training has improved our apprenticeship delivery, and the benefits it could bring to your organisation, please get in touch on 01614808171 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.