Learning and Development, staff training, employee growth program… Whichever way you call employee education strategy in your company, chances are you have one in place. And it’s a smart move to do so.
As research shows, the ability to learn and grow is one of the key factors for employee happiness at work and is actually the number one reason for them to stay with the company.
Companies that invest in employee training and continued education also see a positive trend line in workers’ productivity and, subsequently, in profits. A win-win situation for all, right?
But is it always so?
Every year, companies invest billions of dollars in their L&D programs. Often, though, without lasting success. To illustrate this, McKinsey study found that almost half of L&D professionals think that their initiatives to help employees to learn and grow professionally are ineffective.
The reasons for this vary from case to case: Flaws in the quality of tutoring; training happening only at sporadic intervals; failure to apply knowledge to practice, etc.
Of course, there is a vast spectrum of Learning and Development (L&D) strategies: From formal high-level training programs to supporting employee growth on an individual level (allocating budgets for online courses, mentoring, books, etc.).
Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, there’s peer learning (or peer-to-peer learning).
What is peer learning?
Peer learning taps into the potential and expertise inside your team and creates a knowledge flow of obtaining, sharing, and applying new information.
Put simply, it allows your team members to share their knowledge and learn from each other.
The peer learning method isn’t as heavily used as other L&D strategies, perhaps because the format is quite demanding. It needs to be properly facilitated and requires active contribution from the team members.
But done well, peer learning is probably the most cost-effective, inclusive, and productive learning and development strategy.
What are the benefits of peer learning?
The study conducted by Degreed proves that when looking for advice or information, the majority of employees turn to their peers (colleagues), rather than their bosses or managers.
This speaks volumes about the role of hierarchy in the learning process. Compared to formal training programs where learning happens in a certain hierarchy (trainer-trainee), peer learning is based on discussions among equals.
It’s not about lecturing but exchanging knowledge in a safe environment.
When we compare peer-to-peer learning to individual learning, it provides more structure, knowledge expansion and – most importantly – gives space for constructive feedback among the team members.
In the words of Kelly Palmer and David Blake of Degreed: “Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer-to-peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is meaningful.”
Such productive conversations help teams to collaborate better and be more creative and innovative.
Peer learning: Building a continuous knowledge flow
Possibly the greatest benefit, though, is that peer-to-peer learning happens continuously – on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis.
The reason why the continuity of peer learning is such a key factor here is that it creates a knowledge flow (or knowledge loop) – a systematized process of integrating learning into everyday work.
Individual knowledge becomes collective knowledge. Learning that used to be a from-time-to-time thing becomes business-as-usual.
How to start with peer learning in your team?
Now, what about the practice?
There’s (at least) one team at Slido that has mastered the art of peer learning and development – our Customer Care (CC) team.
It’s one of our biggest (20+) and most distributed teams for whom learning is absolutely essential. Our product is being updated practically on a weekly basis. We release new features, support multiple integrations, process new client requests… you name it.
Our Customer Care needs to stay on top of things. This is why they run weekly L&D sessions so they can share the knowledge and learn from one another.
I asked two of my colleagues – Katarina, Slido’s Head of Customer Care, and Luba, the former Head of Customer Care – about what makes these L&D sessions successful.
Make learning a habit
Allocate a fixed slot for the L&D session in your calendar and stick to it. For example, we run our 1-hour sessions every Friday. If the season’s not that busy or there aren’t that many changes happening, we reduce it to every two weeks. We switch times between mornings and afternoons to accommodate both our US and APAC teams.
By running these L&D sessions on a regular basis, we make learning a habit and automate the process of sharing and absorbing new knowledge. We have embedded this L&D mindset into our everyday lives so our colleagues don’t feel like “this is the time to learn”. It’s natural and automatic.
Take turns in facilitating the meeting
The best way to activate everyone in the learning process is a shared responsibility for the content of the L&D sessions. Each of our sessions is led and facilitated by a different member of the team.
Sharing the ownership of the meetings makes us all equal. We are both teachers and students. Our people also have the chance to develop their leadership and facilitation skills.
The owner of the week’s meeting presents a problem, a difficult use case, or a knowledge gap that we identified on a support shift or during a retrospective. Typically, they start with a presentation, followed by discussion rounds or hands-on exercises, such as troubleshooting or scenario-solving.
Learn through real-life situations
Make the learning as practical as it gets. In your L&D sessions, address and solve real-life problems or challenges that you come across in your day-to-day work.
For instance, one of our team members presented a problem that arose from an interaction with a client. They described what the issue was and ran us through the whole communication.
Then, our colleague ran a Slido open text poll, asking us what we would reply to the client in that situation. When submissions came in, we reviewed each one and discussed the best solution.
To test our technical knowledge, our colleagues often prepare multiple choice poll questions with one correct answer. Typically, they are questions like: “What would you do if a client asked you about X?” with four options for our teammates to choose from.
These exercises encourage hands-on learning: Each person is compelled to actively think about the use case and propose solutions. That’s how people learn the most.
For even more in-depth learning, you can do these types of exercises in breakout rooms. Divide people into pairs or small groups, give each group a scenario, let them discuss it, and come up with a solution. Once you’re all back together, each group can present their solution and discuss it with the others.
Encourage a feedback loop
Getting meaningful feedback is one of the best ways for people to learn. L&D sessions are a great opportunity for people to ask for or give feedback to their colleagues and learn from it.
For instance, during our L&D sessions, we often look back at emails or live chat answers and talk about how they could have been handled better. The feedback often touches upon the content, writing style, voice and tone, or cultural differences in communication.
We often do this after negative customer experiences. It helps us get better at communicating with our clients, and prevent issues from happening in the future.
Create a safe space for discussion
In order to make the most out of the group learning, people have to feel safe to share, give (and receive) feedback, and – most importantly – to ask.
Emphasize that feedback isn’t a criticism but a constructive way to learn from each other. Let people know that everything you discuss is confidential and kept within your team.
To make sure we hear every voice, we always keep Slido Q&A open for people’s questions. If anyone wants to raise a question or spark a discussion around a certain topic but doesn’t feel like speaking up, they can post their question into Slido, even anonymously.
Write up and share the key learnings
During each session, appoint someone to take down notes.
For instance, we always do a write-up of the main points we discussed after each session, then share it in the dedicated Slack channel, together with the slides and the recording of the meeting.
It’s good practice to keep the learnings from each session in writing so that you can come back to it at any time or share it with those who weren’t able to join the session in person.
Learning and development strategy is more than just a box to tick for HR leaders. It’s teamwork.
Your L&D efforts should reflect the needs of your team in a way that helps each individual grow in their role, just as much as it helps the whole team to achieve better results.
Building that knowledge loop where people continuously learn from and inspire each other will have a profound impact on the way you work, collaborate, and communicate together day-by-day.