Peer Learning for Change in Higher Education

Aug. 01, 2014

Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 51, No. 3, 244–254, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article proposes a learning development (LD) perspective to peer learning in higher education. This article focuses on the PAL scheme, which was introduced at Plymouth University in 2011 (PALS@Plymouth) with the specific intention to promote a LD perspective. The PALS leaders are students on the same programme as those with whom they work, but are typically in the year above. The scheme is coordinated by the LD team working alongside academics in the participating programme.

The author conducted a small scale study based on informal, semi-structured interviews seeking the views of PALS leaders about how their involvement in the scheme might serve to focus attention not just on individual student needs but on to problems arising from academic practices more broadly. The interviews with five PALS leaders were held in January 2012. The students were studying on undergraduate programmes in Law, Psychology and Computing. Three were female and two male.


This study has preliminary contributions to theory and practice associated with peer learning. The interviews with the PALS leaders revealed the value of learning from peers.
The participants also offered a range of practical suggestions, focusing on two issues in particular: (a) the need for all lecturers to be aware of PALS and to meet leaders in their subject areas, (b) where PALS sessions were not timetabled along with other elements of a programme or were allocated to evenings, then student attendance was poor and perceptions of the scheme were that it is marginal.

The author suggests that student-led sessions could offer opportunities to assimilate and gain confidence in academic discourse, as advocated by PALS leaders in this study.
The legitimation of peer learning could influence discourse practices by affording more participative roles for students generally, underpinning their right to be listened to, interrupt, to ask questions and to offer their own viewpoints.
The author argues that such an approach can draw attention on legitimating participation in communication, writing and language use under conditions where power is shared as widely as possible.

The author says that increased competition between UK universities, and to appear in league tables based on student satisfaction, choice and success measures could help draw attention to initiatives such as peer learning. However, cultural transformations would be needed at the levels of pedagogy and institutional practice in order to embed peer learning widely.

Updated: Oct. 01, 2017