Peer learning in networks
by Seema Patel, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind
Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.
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In November 2021, Collective Mind hosted a Community Conversation about peer learning models, mindsets, and approaches. The session was co-hosted by Zarko Palankov, Founder of LeadIN and Senior Organizational Development Consultant, who shared methods, tips, experiences, and resources on how to facilitate peer learning in networks and also modeled peer learning during the session using an experiential learning activity. The participatory conversation provided examples and principles that network managers and others could apply in their own contexts.
Highlights from the conversation
Peer learning — people learning from and with each other in an equitable and egalitarian way, where everyone has something to offer, contribute, learn, and gain — is about tapping into the collective wisdom of the group. Networks, in the way they are decentralized and prioritize cultivating interpersonal relationships and collaboration to achieve a shared purpose, provide a natural opportunity to integrate peer learning principles.
Our co-host highlighted three basic categories of peer learning: knowledge exchange, peer support/mutual aid, and learning together. At a basic level, knowledge exchange refers to the sharing of learnings and resources amongst each other. Peer support often occurs when someone comes into a space with a challenge and others provide advice, guidance, resources, and/or an opportunity to brainstorm collective ideas. Similarly, mutual aid involves the provision or exchange of resources for mutual benefit. The third category is learning together, which involves peers building skills or a practice together, often around a specific topic. Each category of peer learning can take on different formats or combinations of approaches such as structured or unstructured, formal or informal, small groups or the full community, one-off or recurrent, or synchronous or asynchronous.
To design an environment primed for peer learning, it’s helpful to follow some basic principles. The first principle is to shift the group mindset away from traditional or potentially outdated views of participation, for example, that only senior members or experts have something to share, and towards a mindset where everyone may have something to contribute and has equal opportunity to do so. The second is to create the “container”, or the space for learning, with a great deal of care, attention, and intentionality, setting expectations from the outset, but still open for co-creation and iteration as things go along. Another principle relates to how the host shows up and recognizes the energy and intention they bring to the space. The host must ensure that those that are part of the learning are connected by shared goals and interests and avoid a sense of disconnection that would be inconducive to learning. Finally, there should be a basic structure set up for any peer learning space, with allowance for experimentation and reflection on what works and what doesn’t.
Peer learning is distinct in that it is often mutually beneficial and interdependent in ways that learning alone, learning passively, or learning from experts is not. If and how a network manager or leader decides to approach peer learning, it should originate from an intentional desire to learn from others and a belief in having something to offer and contribute.
Miss the session? View the recording here and check out the resources provided by our co-host!
Facilitation Tools & Resources
- Liberating Structures
- Case Clinic
- Reciprocity Ring
- Community of Practice (CoP) Toolkit
- Facilitation Resources
- Art of Knowledge Exchange
- Network Weaving
- Art of Hosting and Harvesting
- Randomized Coffee Trials (RCT)
Network handbooks with insights on peer learning and organizing groups:
Networks to draw inspiration from:
- Catalist Network
- Enlivening Edge
- Cultural Catalyst Network
- Starter Cultures
- Berkana Institute
Thanks again to our co-host, Zarko Palanov!
Have your own experiences with peer learning models? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Or email Seema at email@example.com to co-host an upcoming session with us.