Peer-to-Peer Learning

Today’s guest blog post is written by Christy Warren, Educational Development Manager, PatronManager. 

Learning goes far beyond the formal relationship of teacher and student — it’s all around us. In fact, our best learning resource may be the person right next to us. Not surprisingly, there is an official term for this: peer-to-peer learning. It’s all about collaboration among peers with the goal of improving skills quickly and somewhat organically.  

In the workplace, you probably notice it most when you start a new job. In those formative months, every moment is about observing your peers and absorbing the office culture. You ask questions often, take notes, and work hard to retain everything. You feel pressured (likely self-induced) to show how quickly you can learn tasks and policies. After all, you want to affirm that your boss made the right decision in hiring you. You also want your peers to understand you are on their team and you won’t be a slacker. This rapid assimilation is happening because of peer-to-peer learning, and it usually happens without much effort by the employer. Employees want to succeed, so they focus on that directly.

This focus wanes over time, though, so employers in effective office environments work hard to keep this energy alive over the long term. That’s because workers who are continually learning are more engaged, invested, and happy. Why is this?  

When employees are considered subject-matter experts in something, it feels good to be relied upon. There is a sense of responsibility and value when they are in charge of helping or training a teammate.

In addition, employees must adapt to change faster than ever before. Changes happen all the time for various reasons: new software updates, new processes, growing or shrinking staff, customer demands, tighter profit margins, etc. Employees can’t always wait for an official training course or documentation to adapt to the latest change. How many times have you failed to remember what your boss asked for recently and relied on a colleague to remind you? That’s learning from your peers.  

There are many ways to mainstream peer-to-peer learning in the workplace:  

  • Formal initiatives, such as a sharing lunch every month. Participants bring their lunch and someone shares something about their work. This helps other departments know what’s happening across the company, and it helps different generations understand how varied viewpoints support the greater success of the company. Google has a program like this for its employees and encourages sharing of all topics, even those from the employees’ personal lives.
  • Pairing seasoned employees with newer employees to ramp up learning quickly.
  • Using cloud-based technology so peers can access their work from anywhere, including mobile devices, and collaborate in real time. Google G-Suite and Microsoft Office 365 are examples of common business tools.
  • Post-conference sharing sessions, where people who were lucky enough to attend professional conferences are responsible for sharing their takeaways with their peers.
  • Creating a company-wide wiki page or blog for employees to document their processes.
  • Online tools such as Slack allow people to communicate in virtual workspaces. This tool works well when you have teams working remotely or in multiple offices. A similar option is Chatter, which is on the Salesforce platform and is available only to Salesforce users. If you are a PatronManager user, you have access to Chatter, and we highly recommend it.  

Here at PatronManager, we use Chatter quite a bit. The biggest learning benefit is that all of our conversations become part of a searchable knowledge base. We advise our employees to search for keywords within Chatter as the first step in problem solving. Many times you’ll find a conversation from years ago about the same issue, and you’re able to use the same solution this time. Chatter helps us learn from peers who are no longer with our organization. How amazing to retain that institutional knowledge after a person has moved on!

Thus far, this article has focused on the workplace within a single company. However, with all the online and cloud-based technology we have, this could easily expand to cross-company learning. Imagine if all the arts groups in your region connected in an online (or in-person) community* and shared how they handle subscription renewals. That 20-year veteran from across town could likely offer a wealth of information to your new box office manager. What if fundraisers shared their process for handling acknowledgment letters, and your team members were able to shave 30 minutes off their weekly routine because of what they learned and implemented? These scenarios are possible with peer-to-peer learning when you think beyond traditional training options.

In one of my previous positions, we took full advantage of this concept. Four organizations had the same software, so key users from each gathered regularly to talk about using that product better. We shared and learned from our colleagues, and it was wonderful.  

Whether it’s within your company or across many companies, learning from your peers helps employees be resourceful when they are faced with the unknown. People feel proud when they are called upon to share their knowledge. After all, who doesn’t like to feel like they are the expert? When employees understand how they fit into the bigger picture, silos break down and acceptance grows. All of this fosters employee happiness and retention.  

To learn more about peer-to-peer learning and its benefits, I highly recommend this whitepaper, compiled by Accenture. And if you want to dig even deeper, peer-to-peer learning is just one component of a larger methodology called Agile. Agile is so named because it helps groups react appropriately, find information quickly, and adapt to any situation.

*If you’re a PatronManager user, you have an online community already available to you. It’s called the PatronManager Client Community. If you need help getting started, visit your Help Tab or reach out to us.

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