The Power of Peer-to-Peer Learning
Peer-to-peer learning is one of the most effective and efficient ways of learning. Put simply, peer-to-peer learning is when students or professionals teach, share knowledge with fellow colleagues, assist with queries, assignments, and projects thus treating each other as equals, and supporting each other in the learning process. However, this learning method hasn’t received the recognition and achieved the universal scale that it deserves. One of the reasons is that we continue to rely on the traditional school/college method of education and not explore the option of peer-to-peer learning. It is challenging to convince parents that their college-goers can learn from their friends and be gainfully employed.
Peer-to-peer sharing knowledge works! Ask any IT programmer or developer where they go when facing a programming challenge. They do not go to the institute or their college guru. Instead, they go to stack overflow, the largest peer-to-peer community for technical issues. Also, think about where you start your journey in learning a new concept. Most of the time, it’s Wikipedia, another massive peer-to-peer knowledge base. I have learned and conceptualized so many topics from my friends, colleagues, blogs, youtube videos, etc. that I can’t overemphasize the contribution of peer-to-peer learning in my life. I’m sure, if you reflect, you will realize the same.
New technologies are emerging at an unprecedented rate and we now live in an era of lifelong learning. This trend will make peer-to-peer learning more valuable and acceptable. For example, consider “smart contracts”, an emerging technology where contracts in the form of codes reside in a blockchain. You will not find any university course teaching “smart contracts”. However, some of your peers might know more and help you jump-start and navigate.
The flexibility and openness in peer-to-peer learning make learning much more convenient. While doing my Master’s degree at IIT-Bombay, I and my batchmates, Saptarshi, Sumit, Acushla, Sunil, and others started a peer-to-peer learning initiative to share knowledge with other batchmates. We used to meet in the evenings, teach/ discuss a particular subject/ topic, and help each other learn and clear doubts. I remember several times I shied away from asking questions in the class to my professors, assuming that I might be asking a trivial one and breaking the lecture flow. But with peer-to-peer learning, I could ask and share knowledge with my peers without hesitation.
The biggest advantage of peer-to-peer learning is the low cost. And peer-to-peer learning might be the only way to liberate the last 3 billion people in this world deprived of quality education by providing them with the right learning opportunity and making them gainfully employed. Sal Khan’s schoolhouse.world is one such initiative with a mission of connecting the world with free, peer-to-peer tutoring.
So why is peer-to-peer learning not mainstream yet? First, we do not receive a degree or certificate from our peers. Second, it might not be possible to verify whether the peer has the right understanding of the subject matter. Both the challenges can be addressed today. For example, the second challenge can be addressed by peer learners ranking peer tutors and their contents, like upvotes in stack overflow. The best content and peer tutors can emerge automatically.
I admit that there is no such platform yet to foster peer-to-peer learning at a universal scale. However, that does not mean that the method does not work or is not scalable; we need to keep exploring and experimenting. UNP was started on the lines of peer-to-peer learning and we are constantly striving toward leveraging peer-to-peer learning to decentralize education and make quality education accessible and affordable for everyone.