Peer learning

“…learning with and from each other is a necessary and important aspect of all courses. The role it plays varies widely and the forms it takes are very diverse, but without it students gain an impoverished education.” (Boud, 2001)


Peer learning is a student centred approach that transcends knowledge acquisition and helps nurture graduate attributes of collaboration, problem solving and teamwork. Landis (2000) asserts that research shows that students who engage in collaborative learning and group study perform better academically, persist longer, feel better about the educational experience and have enhanced self-esteem. Further benefits include:

  • self-directed learning skills, with foundation for life-long continuing self-education
  • critical thinking, communication and interpersonal skills
  • learning through self, peer assessment and critical reflection (Gwee, 2003).

Related theories include social, cooperative and collaborative learning.


How does peer learning work?

In peer learning, students construct and negotiate their own meaning and understanding of content and concepts. Essentially, students will be involved in searching for collecting, analysing, evaluating, integrating and applying information to complete an assignment or solve a problem.

Students engage in intellectually, emotionally and socially (Gwee, 2003) “constructive conversation” and learn by talking and questioning each other’s views and reaching consensus or dissent (Boud, 2001). To optimise peer learning, it is important to create a conducive learning environment where there is mutual respect and trust.

Typically students work best in small group formats in flat floor spaces, but peer learning activities such as peer instrcution can aslo work well in a tiered lecture teaching space as shown with peer instruction.

Peer instruction

Eric Mazur, Harvard Physics professor, developed his version of peer instruction to ensure students could understand and apply core concepts to problems rather than just use memory recall. This video Confessions of a converted Lecturer [1:20:29] shows how Mazur adjusted his approach to teaching to focus on peer instruction techniques, which has improved his students' performance significantly.

Monash University tranferred Mazur's technique to the humanities with the Peer Instruction in the Humanities Project to ' facilitate and encourage the adoption and evaluation of PI in philosophy and the humanities throughout the higher education sector'. (Butcherd, Handfield & Restall, 2009).

Peer assessment

Boud (2001) asserts that ways of assessing its value must be explored together with strategies for its effective implementation bearing in mind the following features:

Key learning outcomes. Assessment needs to focus on the desired outcomes. Therefore clarity needs to be sought about the outcomes are. For example, if the emphasis is on using peer learning for students to improve subject-matter learning it will lead to one type of assessment design.

Holistic design. Ensure that assessment tasks purposefully include, not marginalise, peer learning

Consequence. In designing assessment, ask: "How can assessment activities support meaningful engagement for students?"

Lifelong learning. The range of assessment tasks should leave students better equipped to engage in continuous learning. That is, those that encourage working with others, planning, organising knowlegde. working interdependently.

Reflexive activities. Peer learning activities have an advantage over other teaching and learning strategies in that they have considerable potential to promote critical reflection, provided the climate of reciprocal communication and openness is encouraged.

Collaborative Learning/ Learning with Peers from Dartmouth College has some useful ideas for effective diagnosis and response to collaboration and peer work.


Formative Assessment: Effectiveness of ConcepTests and Conceptual Probes in Math and Science
(Collison & Collison, 2009) highlights how assesment needs to be part of the instructional schema to guide both teaching and learning and improve outcomes.

Peer instruction problems: introduction to the method is a tip sheet from The Physics Suite with downloadable templates to introduce peer learning into physics instruction.


See the UQ ITS Tools A-Z guide on to how to use peer assessment in BlackBoard.

ipeer is a web-based platform to develop and deliver peer evaluations, review and release student comments, build rubrics and progress report forms online.

Aropa is an open source tool from the University of Glasgow that allows teachers to set assignments then set up peer reviews between students. You review other studentsí work, then receive reviews on your own work.

Peerwise is a free tool from NZ that flips assessment and allows students to create questions, share and see answers; a sort of peer-based, formative assessment generator.

Peermark from Turnitin allows instructors to write assignments. You set dates, can see how many assignments have been submitted, set how many students you want to review each assignment and whether you or the students choose what to review, pair up students, add review questions, reorder them.


Butchart, S., Handfield, T., & Restall, G. (2009). Using Peer Instruction to Teach Philosophy, Logic, and Critical Thinking. Teaching Philosophy, 32(1), 1-40.

Abstract: Peer Instruction is a simple and effective technique you can use to make lectures more interactive, more engaging, and more effective learning experiences. Although well known in science and mathematics, the technique appears to be little known in the humanities. In this paper, we explain how Peer Instruction can be applied in philosophy lectures. We report the results from our own experience of using Peer Instruction in undergraduate courses in philosophy, formal logic, and critical thinking. We have consistently found it to be a highly effective method of improving the lecture experience for both students and the lecturer.

Boud, D. (Ed), Cohen, R. (Ed), & Sampson, J. (Ed)(2000). Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning from & with Each Other, Stylus Publishing, Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA.


The essays in this collection explore how educators can formalize the use of peer learning to encourage more effective learning in higher education. The chapters are: (1) "Introduction: Making the Move to Peer Learning" (David Boud); (2) "Designing Peer Learning" (Jane Sampson and Ruth Cohen); (3) "Strategies for Peer Learning: Some Examples" (Jane Sampson and Ruth Cohen); (4) "Implementing and Managing Peer Learning" (Ruth Cohen and Jane Sampson); (5) "Peer Learning and Assessment" (David Boud, Ruth Cohen, and Jane Sampson); (6) "Team-based Learning in Management Education" (Ray Gordon and Robert Connor); (7) "Project Management Teams; A Model of Best Practice in Design" (Jenny Toynbee Wilson); (8) "Peer Learning in Law: Using a Group Journal" (James Cooper); (9) "Autonomy, Uncertainty and Peer Learning in IT Project Work" (Brian Lederer and Richard Raban); (10) "Peer Learning Using Computer Supported Roleplay - Simulations" (Robert McLaughlan and Denise Kirkpatrick); (11) "Aligning Peer Assessment with Peer Learning for Large Classes: The Case of an Online Self and Peer Assessment System" (Mark Freeman and Jo McKenzie); and (12) "Conclusion: Challenges and New Directions" (David Boud).

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69, 970.


We report data from ten years of teaching with Peer Instruction (PI) in the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics courses for nonmajors; our results indicate increased student mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving upon implementing PI. We also discuss ways we have improved our implementation of PI since introducing it in 1991. Most notably, we have replaced in-class reading quizzes with pre-class written responses to the reading, introduced a research-based mechanics textbook for portions of the course, and incorporated cooperative learning into the discussion sections as well as the lectures. These improvements are intended to help students learn more from pre-class reading and to increase student engagement in the discussion sections, and are accompanied by further increases in student understanding.