Create a Self-Organized Learning Environment with Peer Learning Groups

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“Anyone who’s ever taught a course is aware of the fact that the one who learns the most is the teacher.” Russell Ackoff

In a professional environment, traditional training approaches are of doubtful value because they bring little results in terms of gained skills and changed behaviors at work. They are also very cost- and time- intensive. For these reasons, organizations are seeking new ways to develop their workforce and create knowledge workers prepared for future challenges.

Learning is Changing

There is an almost ubiquitous access to information today, thanks to technology. As a result, content knowledge is no longer as valuable as content navigation skills and the ability to learn and apply the content in real life situations. Training and professional development must accommodate this new informational paradigm.

We Do Not Value What We Already Have

Even though information is available everywhere, one place where it is less likely to be recognized is inside the organization itself. An organization’s self-learning competence is typically ignored. The knowledge, skills and experience of its managers are not valued as a source of learning for others. Neither are their ability to generate new knowledge if they are motivated and encouraged to do so. These creative capabilities can be unleashed using an approach called a self-organized learning environment (SOLE), which is revolutionizing how students learn in schools and how employees and managers can learn in organizations.

A Self-Organized Learning Environment

SOLEs grew from Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiment in India, where students used computers installed in their communities to seek information, solve problems, and expand their creativity. The mere access to the Internet allowed groups of poor children to learn almost anything by themselves. From India, the idea spread to the UK, then to the US and beyond. Today, hundreds of schools across the world are engaged in this global experiment of self-organized learning.

In a SOLE, the educator poses a ‘Big Question’ to pique the children’s curiosity and imagination. Without an easy answer, ‘Big Questions’ reach across many disciplines and subjects to provide a deep, meaningful context for exploration. The students organize themselves into small groups and work collaboratively to find an answer using the Internet. They are self-directed, self-organized and self-motivated to find answers to the ‘Big Question’.

It is high time for organizations to follow suit.

Peer Learning Groups as a SOLE in Organizations

Self-directed learning using peer groups is a novel way to keep managers motivated and learning. With a few intentional steps, you can turn your workplace into one that fosters continuous learning and problem solving that does not require costly and time-consuming traditional training.

Peer learning groups are small groups of managers who meet to address a challenge or an issue that is important for them in a given moment and situation. They address this ‘Big Question’ by tapping into the skills, knowledge, and experience of their peers in the group, as well as provided reference materials. The peers work collaboratively using a structured framework of learning and dialogue to find an answer. They are self-directed and facilitate their peer group sessions themselves. They are also self-organized, getting together whenever they feel a need to learn something new or to resolve a pressing challenge. In short, peer learning groups embrace the principles of a SOLE applied to professional development in an organization.


The biggest innovation of peer learning groups is their simplicity. All you need is a group of managers who seek a solution to a common problem and are willing to collaborate in a small team. It is astounding to see how much people can learn ‘mind-mining’ themselves without any external instruction or facilitation. And since peer learning groups can address virtually any topic, there are no limits to how this approach can be applied in an organization.


The impact of peer learning groups is wide-ranging. Peers find new ways to share and seek knowledge, work together, solve problems, and become more engaged in learning and professional development. They gain confidence and competence and develop deeper relations with their co-workers, which facilitates better work relations, cross-functional collaboration, and faster results. They learn to see their common challenges from different perspectives and discover that they share more commonalities than differences.


Peer learning groups can be used by any organization, large and small. Since peer learning groups can be introduced with minimal cost and effort, an organization can afford to offer a professional development opportunity to a large number of managers, either in face-to-face meetings or virtually.

Create an Open Space for Learning

Self-organizing peer learning groups are ideal starting points for an organization-wide learning process. They are also a great tool to invite managers into the change process, rather than imposing it on them, and to let self-organizing peer learning define the change as it emerges. As in many situations, it is not possible to control the outcomes, but it is possible to provide a framework such as a peer learning group process whereby the managers can learn and work without being constrained and controlled. This cannot be more necessary and important than in the case of management and leadership, where there are many ‘Big Questions’ and no easy answers.

If you want to apply the SOLE approach using peer learning groups in your organization, please contact The Peer Learning Institute to get more information. You can schedule a mutually convenient time to chat with one of our learning specialists using this link:

Peter Korynski, Chief Program Officer, The Peer Learning Institute

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