In my last blog, Do peers influence the learning environment and how individuals in a group learn?, I wrote about how peers play an integral role in positively shaping learning and engagement in a group. The positive effect peers can have in a group center around enabling observational learning, enriched classroom dynamics and healthy competition. I will talk about each of these factors below. These are mostly based on my observations from teaching classes.
Observational Learning: People learn from each other in a group through observation. This method of learning, called Observational Learning, posits that we observe and imitate behaviors based on the efficacy and sensibility of certain actions (Verywell). Additionally, students learn from a peer’s action only if that action leads to a positive outcome (e.g., recognition from a teacher). The more a peer action is rewarded, the more others in the group are motivated to imitate and learn from that action (Education Corner). In a group I taught (Dora), one student (Dia) was very engaged attempting to answer questions, turning in homework well ahead of the deadline and ensuring she always logged into zoom class on time. The other students in the class observed her actions, recorded the reward it brought her (recognition from me) and began to imitate her actions leading to a well-engaged class. Subsequently, others in the class also displayed proactive engagement and such a peer exchange elevated the group’s learning as a result. My takeaway from this experience is to ensure that I motivate one student in the class to be engaged and to reward that behavior to trigger the trickling effect across the class through Observational Learning!
Healthy Competition: Students push their learning boundaries and aim to excel when they try to compete. Studies indicate that it is no different in the classroom. One particular study published by Owlcation and written by Joyette Helen Fabien states “competition in the classroom is quite healthy; it should, in fact, be encouraged. It allows students to extend themselves, to exploit their real capabilities and maximize their true potential”. When a student displays his/her knowledge through class participation, other similarly skilled students in the group tend to do the same thereby fostering more engagement as a class. The converse holds true as well. In one of my classes, no one engaged initially and the whole class was quiet and unengaged. All students demonstrated nonchalant behavior. However, when one student was encouraged to participate, many others in the class came forward to answer questions and engage proactively. The hypothesis I left with was that peer participation leads to healthy competition and increases the collective learning of a group.
Enriched Classroom dynamics: When one student begins to engage in a class, it influences others in the group to engage through Observational Learning and Healthy Competition. I have often noticed that this results in a compound effect on the whole class as it strengthens the classroom dynamics resulting in a stronger collective learning. The peers who model positive learning values tend to support the development of others in the group, and I have noticed that this classroom dynamic elevates the group’s learning as a whole.
Until I started teaching, I used to think that teachers and books are the most critical factors that contribute to an individual’s learning. My experience as a teacher, albeit short, has made me realize what an important role “peer influence effect” plays in a group’s effective learning environment and the compound effect it could have on the entire class!