Study with friends to enjoy the benefits of peer learning

Studying with friends is more fun than learning alone. However, educational research has found that the benefits of working with peers extend far beyond the social. By helping one another in the classroom and outside of it, you are more likely to fully understand and remember the topics you share.
Catherine Shirley ACMA, CGMA, Lecturer of Accounting at Newcastle-under-Lyme College, explains further.
All types of peer learning have been shown to be highly effective in terms of boosting motivation, focus and depth of understanding. You could be revising with your peers in the final weeks to your exams, interacting using Facebook or a study group, or helping out a perplexed classmate.

You may have already been in a situation where a friend was struggling with a difficult accounting problem in class and, if you knew the correct method, you may have taken them through it to help them understand. Clearly, this is of great benefit to your friend because they can move on with their work, but do you realise how many benefits it can offer you?

Learning by teaching
Studies have shown that the cognitive process of explaining solutions, and dealing with questions and misunderstandings will help to embed knowledge further into your memory and enhance your own understanding of the subject.  This process can result in ‘deep learning’, which is retained by your long term memory, rather than ‘surface learning’, where information can dissipate from your memory shortly after class.
If you are fortunate enough to study in a classroom, your tutor will understand the benefits of peer work and may well integrate peer related tasks into your learning process. You may find yourself delivering presentations, marking and feeding back the strengths and weaknesses of a classmate’s work, producing quiz questions or even interacting in team debates.
These student centred activities have been linked to more effective learning because you need to actively engage with the material in order to participate. This engagement is missing in ‘passive learning’ where you are reading, listening or taking notes, either alone or in a lecture based class.
Inclusion of activity based learning makes for a more varied and interesting experience, which can also boost motivation levels, encourage group cohesion and ultimately result in a better comprehension of the topic.
Retaining key information
Not everyone welcomes the chance to participate in peer related tasks. You may feel it is your tutor’s job to provide knowledge, and that is the reason you attend classes. However the process of listening to a classmate’s interpretation of a subject, hearing it spoken in a familiar voice and expressed in a different manner can actually enable that information to be internalised more readily.
Research has shown that complex ideas can be processed more easily when communicated via a range of sources – your tutor’s explanation is just one of these.
Some of you may worry whether you can trust the opinions or views of your peers. Is their feedback based on their relationship with you and therefore subjective? If this is the case, opt for tasks that provide a level of anonymity, by blind marking one another’s written work, or by using online interactive platforms.
Increase your employability
Working with others – in classroom based activities, by online study group participation, or as part of ‘live online’ type study options – will not only offer you a supportive environment in which to learn, but can also help you develop business and interpersonal skills which will add to your employability.
Peer work develops communication skills and confidence, and instils the use of effective language. These are traits that employers are actively seeking alongside exam results.
Benefits of peer assessment
If you get the opportunity to extend your peer interaction into the area of assessment, you can learn a lot. Marking one another's work can provide a fantastic insight into how exam candidates can miss marks - through easily correctable errors in exam technique, for example.
As you provide feedback on your classmate’s work, you will begin to generate ideas and see from a different perspective how you might improve your own grades.
With practice, you can start to view your own exam script through the eyes of the marker.  Your tutor may often stress the importance of allocating the correct amount of time to questions based on marks available, but nothing proves it like seeing a classmate fail to complete a paper or lose marks because they haven’t answered enough questions or spent too long on some.
Providing honest feedback on a classmate’s efforts and delivering it in a sensitive way can develop business skills you may need in future - for example, if you appraise staff or have to communicate sensitive issues in a boardroom. Finding a way to criticise results without offending is a delicate balance that requires strong interpersonal skills.
Receiving constructive feedback from a peer assessment will help you develop the ability to respond positively to criticism and utilise comments to improve. Furthermore, you will develop the key quality of resilience, which is important to support the continuous cycle of self-improvement that underpins professional and academic success.
So next time you are stuck needing help, don't hesitate to ask a nearby classmate if they will talk through the method. They are likely to be happy to help and you will be benefitting their learning and your own.
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