October 17, 2014

Peeragogy – The Evolution of Active Learning

by Hsiao-Ting Wang, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Maryland Medical Center

In a world of information overload, what is the best way to keep updated?  Other than reading through textbooks, guidelines, and journal articles, where can I learn from the wisdom of other’s real-world experiences?  Prior to starting my residency, I discovered Dr. Bryan Hayes’ twitter feed, @PharmERToxGuy, and was stunned by the abundance of knowledge shared between practitioners across the country.  One can learn about the hottest debate or the latest scientific findings in emergency medicine simply by reading 140-character tweets (aka messages)!  These are real-time conversations among experts in the field.  This is also self-directed learning conducted through peer-to-peer interaction, but without a facilitator!  The concept of peer-to-peer learning was first described in 2011 and subsequently called “Peeragogy.”1,4  Before going further into peeragogy, I think it is necessary to take a step back to review the evolution of peer-based learning.

Traditional peer-based learning refers to the “active learning” component of instructional design where students are encouraged to formulate their own answers, participate in discussions, and engage in group work.  Teachers play the role of facilitator by selecting appropriate topics for discussions and raising questions when necessary to prompt students to think critically and deeply about the subject matter.  According to Alice Christudason, there are four common peer-learning strategies to choose from1: buzz group, affinity group, solutions and critic group, and teach-write-discuss.  Buzz group is when students are divided into smaller groups for discussion in class and, following the small group discussion, one member of each small group presents during the whole class debrief.  Affinity group is similar to buzz group but it requires each small group to find their own time outside of the class meetings to discuss.  Solutions and critic groups work by pairing up two small groups together – one is responsible for teaching the whole class on a selected topic and the other for evaluating the presentation.  Lastly, the teach-write-discuss method utilizes a whole classroom discussion at the end of the instruction to examine how much students have learned from a lecture.

In addition, students can acquire new knowledge through other peer-to-peer instructional techniques such as role-play, debates, case studies, and group projects.  The key to successful traditional peer-based learning relies not only on students’ enthusiasm about active learning but also the teacher’s role in selecting and orchestrating the learning exercise.  In our digital world today, learning opportunity extend beyond the physical boundaries of classrooms.  One of the first peer-learning communities, Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) was created in 2009 to provide inexpensive (free) higher education with quality content to millions of learners on the Internet.  There are many other online peer-learning communities similar to P2PU.  The newest platform is the Massive Online Open Classes (MOOCs), most notably Coursera.  These online communities still employ an instructor to facilitate learning with open forums for discussion between learners around the world.

Joe Corneli and Charles Danoff coined the term “Paragogy” to describe the self-directed learning that occurs through connections among peers.2  Literally, “para” means along side and “gogy” means leading.  Paragogy applies Knowles’ principles of androgogy (adult learning) to peer-based teaching and learning3.  There are five working principles of paragogy.  These principles along with authors’ definition of each principle are:
  • Decenteralized center: Understanding the concept of shared context is more important than understanding one’s self-concept.
  • Meta-learning as a source of knowledge: There is a lot to learn about learning.
  • Peers have different but equal perspectives: Learners must confront and make sense of the difference among them as part of the learning experience instead of seeking to confirm what one already knew.
  • Learning is distributed, not linear: It is important to learn how to work around a given social field as side-tracking is allowed.
  • Realize the dream (if you can), then move one: Learners should attempt to fulfill their personal motivations but shouldn’t dwell too long.

Essentially, these working principles serve as the guidance for learners to facilitate their own learning without having a facilitator to remind them of the rules.  

To make the concept of self-driven peer-to-peer learning easily understood, Howard Rheingold coined the term “Peeragogy” in his Regent’s Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley in 2012.4  While parallel to paragogy, Mr. Rheingold combined social media with paragogy to describe peeragogy as the “future of high-end online learning in which motivated self-learners collaborate via a variety of social media to create, deliver, and learn an agreed curriculum.”5  Each learner serves in the “instructor” role and creates the syllabus and strategy to promote critical thinking and thoughtful discussions.6  In other words, for a peeragogical design to work, the group needs to establish a group consensus for expectations, learning objectives, media technology, and the social contract of the course.  The group needs to formulate a process for communicating with one another, how to respond to questions, give feedback in a timely manner, and evaluate performance at the completion of the course.  Last but not least, there needs to be a process to translate changes to the learning environment to be implemented in the next cycle.

Reflecting back on Dr. Hayes’ twitter feed, it is obvious that this online forum has provided a platform for information exchange among peers with similar interest and expertise in a particular field.  This fulfills the definition of a learning community as described by Mr. Rheingold.  To carry out peeragogy, the next step would be to establish a learning contract among followers and put it into action!

  1. Christudason, A. (2003). Peer learning. Successful Learning, Center for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL), National University of Singapore. (accessed 1 October 2014)
  2. Corneli, J. and Danoff, C. J. (2011). Paragogy: Synergizing individual and organizational learning. (accessed 1 October 2014)
  3. Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Chicago: Follett.
  4. Rheingold, H. (2012). UC Berkeley Regents' Lecture: Social Media and Peer Learning: From Mediated Pedagogy to Peeragogy. Presented by Berkeley Center for New Media. (accessed 19 September 2014)
  5. Rheingold, H. (2012). Toward Peeragogy. (accessed 19 September 2014)
  6. Rheingold, H, Corneli, J, Danoff, C. J. et al. (2014). The Peeragogy Handbook v. 2.0 (accessed 1 October 2014)

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