Peer to Peer Learning for Maritime Training
Peer learning makes trainees an active part of the learning process as opposed to simply “vessels to be filled with knowledge”. It encourages reflective thought and engagement. And because these benefits to trainees are derived from their peers, it can actually reduce the workload on you, their trainer. This article continues the discussion on peer learning by providing some concrete advice on how to engage in peer learning in the maritime community.
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In last week’s article I introduced peer learning as a supplement to the training you provide, and discussed some of its strengths and my experience with it. The idea behind peer learning is that if you provide a venue for your trainees to hold discussions, ask questions and generally learn from one another, the benefits can be remarkable. Peer learning makes trainees an active part of the learning process as opposed to simply “vessels to be filled with knowledge”. It encourages reflective thought and engagement. And because these benefits to trainees are derived from their peers, it can actually reduce the workload on you, their trainer. From the time I first started engaging my students in peer learning as a faculty member at the university of British Columbia, I’ve never taught without it since.
This article continues the discussion on peer learning by providing some concrete advice on how to engage in peer learning. The series then finishes up with next week’s article which discusses some of the benefits that accrue to trainees, trainers and training organizations. If you would like to receive notifications when new maritime training articles arrive, and have not already done so, please click here to sign up.
If your organization is already using an LMS (Learning Management System) to support training, getting started is easy, as long as that LMS provides (preferably) a community module or (at the very least) discussion forums. In this case, your trainees are likely already registered in the LMS and there is little or no setup involved.
If you do not use an LMS, or your existing LMS does not support either discussions or a learning community, then your only option is to adopt some other method of enabling discussions. In this case, I highly recommend the adoption of a suitable LMS for all the benefits it can provide to trainees, trainers and the training organizations (and I will make a blatantly self-serving plug for our own LMS here - MarineLMS). However, adopting an LMS is not something that can be done on a whim. Therefore, until that happens, there are simple, free, stand-alone forum alternatives which can be used to support discussions. They are limited in functionality and may only be stop-gap measures until you eventually move to an LMS, but they will suffice during the interim.
One such free discussion tool I have found is “Free Forums” (http://www.freeforums.org/). I have never used it (and therefore am not endorsing it) since I’ve always had the benefit of an LMS. However, I have been told it works relatively well. Feel free to try that one out or any of the myriad of other free discussion forum services. But make a choice, and set it up.
I have found that the most effective way of engaging the students in peer learning is to let them discover it on their own. By this, I mean that I never explicitly introduce them to the values of peer learning nor do I tell them that we are going to be using peer learning as an educational technique in the course. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing so, but I generally find that it happens so naturally (with the correct encouragement) that it is unnecessary.
Instead, I tell the students that the community (or discussion forum) exists as a place where they are free to ask questions which occur to them outside of class. In fact, I ask them specifically not to e-mail me with questions unless they have a question of a personal nature, saying that I would like their question and my answer to be available to all trainees. Generally, this is a very welcomed announcement because many trainees are reluctant to raise their hand in class, and having a second venue to ask a question is viewed as a real benefit.
I also tell my students that they are responsible for visiting the community (or discussion forums) at least once every two or three days because I will use it as a place to make important announcements. This is preferable to only making announcements in class because this way the announcements will be persistent and available to all students even if they missed a class. It has also been a life-saver for me in instances where I have forgotten to make an announcement in class which the students need to know about prior to the following class.
Finally, I tell my students that I will be sure to visit the community on a regular basis so that they receive timely answers to their questions. I also remind them that if they see a question for which they know the answer, they are encouraged to go ahead and answer it.
Trainees will begin learning from one another once they have something to discuss. I have had many colleagues who, in the past, would post a discussion topic to the community and then instruct the students to discuss it. The instructors would provide incentives by way of grades to encourage participation. To me, these discussions were always forced and had an artificial tone to them. I question the value of these “discussions for grades”.
Instead, discussions which focus around more “genuine” topics (topics the students inherently care about) are generally much more successful. In a typical training or classroom experience, the best topics for these kinds of discussions are either assignments you’ve given the trainees, or course topics you’ve taught. Here, the students will be looking for help and advice to either complete the assignment or understand the course materials. To help get the conversation going, you could try some of the following:
- After giving out an assignment, create a group in the community (or a discussion topic) dedicated to that assignment. Then, post a helpful hint or two about the assignment in the group to get the trainees going. This will demonstrate that you are serious about using the community, and train the students to look for valuable insight there.
- Also, after giving an assignment, make a posting in the community reminding the trainees that if they have any questions, they are to ask it in the community. Finish the posting by asking the students to comment on how they are finding the assignment, and asking if they have any questions you can answer for them.
- After a class presentation, discussion, or face-to-face training session (especially one you believe some of the trainees found to be difficult), post a note in the community indicating your belief that some of the trainees found the topic difficult, and offer help. You could even offer a clarifying remark about the topic you presented in class. This will often be met with a followup question or two from the trainees, and a discussion will ensue.
Once you do this, invariably the trainees will begin posting to the community. If one forgets and sends you a question via an e-mail instead, don’t answer it. Instead respond by asking them to post their question to the community and assure them you will answer it there.
Generally, once the trainees begin posting, others trainees will begin answering before you are able to. If this is not the case, you can encourage them to do so by explicitly asking other students for their opinions before giving your answer. For example, a response along the lines of “Good question Jane, but before I give you my opinion on this, I am curious about what other trainees think. Let’s hear it.”.
All of this is to set up the culture in the class that the community is the place for discussions outside of class. Once this culture is established, the community will take on a life of its own. It was my experience that my students (in a 3 month course of 150 students) would post as many as 1,000 comments and questions. This was a well used resource. In addition, once I began doing this in my courses, I would find that other instructors would visit my office to tell me they were getting pressure from students to do the same in their courses. From that point, the practice spread throughout the department in a few short semesters. Once you and your students experience the value of these discussions, you are unlikely to train again without them.
Next week’s article will conclude this series on peer learning by discussing some of the benefits that accrue to trainees, trainers and training organizations. If you would like to receive notifications when new maritime training articles arrive, and have not already done so, please click here to sign up. Until then - thanks for reading and have a great day!
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About The Author:
Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the creator of MarineLMS - the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.
Maritime Mentoring: International Maritime Mentoring Community - Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor