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The merits of peer learning for leaders

Leadership is a transformative process – once you’ve become a people manager your thinking around leadership changes. As you progress every day, many factors influence how you learn, and suddenly that is no longer an activity reserved only for the classroom. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn could be through your peers.


The way we learn is changing

A recent study reveals that 70% of workers learn from their peers and only 21% rely on what their L&D or HR departments offer as learning options.

Because leaders bring with them a unique set of skills, knowledge and experiences, the advantages of learning from peers are further magnified when applied to this group. According to organisational development expert and facilitator of IML ANZ’s Intentional Leadership Foundations program, Kerry Irwin, sharing these aspects amongst peers enriches the learning experience.

Irwin explains, “The theory and practice delivered in a peer learning program is brought to life by the participants’ past experiences. It embeds the learnings. So whilst the theory may fade in the mind of participants, the examples shared by others in the room means the learnings are brought further to life and they stick.”


Diversity of thought is better

Several perspectives are also better than one. Irwin strongly believes that leaders benefit from the wide experience and views brought into the room by a cohort of peers.

“A teacher-led or trainer-led approach limits the participants to only one view. Either that of the trainer or the organisation who designed the program.”

Irwin adds that effective peer learning does not require a trainer or a teacher. “You need a facilitator who understands and encourages the flow of discussion, which brings about fruitful learning,” she said.


Not a silver bullet

Of course, peer learning should be just one element of the way leaders learn. Irwin points out that coaching is best conducted one-on-one and when it comes to technical learning, courses that are focused on the individual’s skills gap, and therefore the need, is best.

Adult learning delivery should vary according to the individual’s personal learning preference, and this is a key consideration as to whether peer learning is the right choice. “Some may learn better as an individual, for example online, if group work makes them anxious therefore hurting their learning experience”.


Learning from and with like-minded individuals has its merits when contrasted to the typical classroom-based, teacher- or trainer-led approach. Mainly when peer learning is an element of a leadership development program, participants have strong shared motivation: learning to be better leaders. Irwin also states the importance of being open to others’ views and experience. She concludes, “If they approach the session with a curious mindset – even better!”


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