Peer Learning Groups Provide Collateral Learning

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Education scholar John Dewey came up with the concept of collateral learning, where we learn from how we learn as well as from what we are being taught. Collateral learning is the lesson learners take from the accidental experience with the lesson rather than from the intent of the instructor.

“Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future. The most important attitude that can be formed is that of a desire to go on learning.” (Dewey, Experience and Education).

Collateral learning resulting from a learning experience may include the value of collaboration with other participants, active listening, learning from others’ experiences, respecting others’ opinions and perspectives, risking testing a new theory or technique, or becoming comfortable making mistakes and learning from them. Participating in a peer learning group, as structured by The Peer Learning Institute, results in all of this collateral learning.

How Does Collateral Learning Occur in Peer Learning Groups?

The groups are comprised of five or six managers, at the same level of authority within a company, who share a current management challenge. Ideally, these managers are drawn from different departments in the same company so they can get to know their colleagues better.

They meet in two 90-minute structured sessions focused on that specific management challenge. The intentional learning is a new more effective technique to handle that challenge. Their collateral learning stems from the learning process they use.

The learning process provides collateral learning in the value of collaboration, group facilitation, teamwork, and mutual support. The sessions are collaborative and self-directed, so the managers facilitate their own discussions and manage their time to get through the agendas. The learning process in each session is structured so the managers will share their experience and encourage and support each other as they learn from each other and from the materials we provide. They also learn more about each other’s programs and challenges. This helps to bridge siloes and draw the management team closer together.

In the first session, the learning process provides collateral learning in the value of active listening, communication, root cause analysis, performance assessment, and goal setting. The managers take turns talking about their challenge and the steps they’ve taken to address it. They use active listening skills and ask clarifying questions to better understand the situations. They assess root causes, review best practices, and discuss how a new technique might have better handled the challenging situation they first described.

They each select a new technique and make a commitment in front of their peers to change how they approach their challenge by practicing the new technique for a month. They also choose a peer buddy to connect with every week for ongoing support.

During their month of practice, the learning process provides collateral learning in the value of repetitive practice, learning from mistakes, collegial support, and performance monitoring and assessment. The managers use their chosen new technique repeatedly to develop mastery in managing the challenge. Weekly, they check in with their peer buddy, receive microlearning tips, and fulfill the calls to action. They maintain a weekly log of what they did, what happened, and what they learned from the experience.

They return for the second session, where the learning process introduces and reinforces the collateral skills of reflection and action planning. The managers report their experience, analyze what each other has learned from their practice, reflect on their learning, and plan how to continue to use their new technique to handle similar challenges in the future.

What Collateral Learning Occurs in Peer Learning Groups?

Besides mastering a new technique to handle an existing management challenge, the managers gain or strengthen collateral learning in the value of collaboration, group facilitation, teamwork, mutual support, active listening, communication, root cause analysis, performance analysis, goal setting, repetitive practice, learning from mistakes, collegial support, performance monitoring and assessment, reflection, and action planning.

Help your managers develop this collateral learning as they learn how to effectively address real work challenges. Set up a convenient time to talk with a peer learning specialist using this link:

What collateral learning would you like your managers to have?

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