Building Online Courses with Peer Learning | Maher & Maher
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Building Online Courses with Peer Learning

It’s been years since I completed my master’s degree in Instructional Technology from a reputable Philadelphia university. At that time, online courses were few and far between. In fact, if a course was offered online, it was delivered in the framework of blended learning because in-class sessions were still required for discussion and exams.

I’ve always been a perpetual learner.  However, I tend to focus my skill-sharpening around the development of just-in-time learning, video demonstrations, and webinars. As an e/mLearning Developer, I have to stay current with technology because tools and learning platforms are constantly updated.

As our clients continue to transition instructor-led training to online learning, or even look to revamp dated online learning, they present a growing desire to discuss topics, ideas, challenges, and perspectives with their Learning and Development peers.

While I have kept up with the mechanics of developing and hosting online instruction throughout my career, I felt as if I was missing a piece of the puzzle – the experience of taking a structured online course. So, what did I do? You guessed it. I enrolled in a six-week online course on learning design. While I realize that my instructional design skills can always be improved, my real motivation for participating in this course was to experience an online class with a peer learning component.

It turned out to be one of the best classes I’ve taken in a while. It inspired me to always think about how peer learning can be incorporated into the instruction I design. Since most online learning platforms have the ability to facilitate such engagement, peer learning is an approach that can and should be included in any comprehensive training plan.

I came away with ideas for creating a well-rounded collaborative learning experience I can suggest to our clients. Here are just a few:

  • Structure learning with teams in mind. Interactive team assignments that involve contributions from all participants and require team discussions improve the retention of content. They also help build connections that are similar to those established in a classroom environment.
  • Generate an atmosphere of collaboration. Build in the ability for learners to share their own work and to provide suggestions to classmates for improving theirs. Peer reviews generate thought and discussion, especially if learners come from various parts of the country or world. They inspire curiosity and encourage conversations that begin with, “I never thought of/tried that. Explain to me how it works.”
  • Curate a variety of content to support the subject matter. Articles and videos can provide additional examples and alternate approaches that supplement course content. Learners can dig deeper into the content if they wish.
  • Build in text-based online discussions where learners can share knowledge and experience. Everyone wants to learn tips, shortcuts, and best practices for streamlining workflow. Incorporating reverse mentoring is an effective method of circulating this information.
  • Have a coach or facilitator available to answer questions and provide guidance on course assignments in a timely manner whenever possible.

Learning requires more than just the course content. For new knowledge and skills to stick, it should be a personalized experience that provides learners with opportunities to engage with peers, explore content together, and problem-solve. This approach will enhance the participant’s ability to successfully put what they’ve learned into practice.

Maher & Maher is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in Neptune, NJ and in Washington, D.C. The Firm’s Private Sector Practice specializes in customized learning design and delivery for the Deathcare, Financial Services, Life Sciences, and Media & Communications industries, and partners with our peers to do the same for government clientele. For more information about our services, visit our website or call us at 1-888-90-MAHER.

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