The Importance of Equality and Informality in Peer Learning Groups

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“The only source of knowledge is experience.”  Albert Einstein

Numerous studies have found that people are their most creative when they meet informally on the job in groups of their peers where everyone is treated equally, has an equal opportunity to participate and speak up, and are focused on achieving the same objective.


Equality is one of the foundational principles of the peer learning groups established by The Peer Learning Institute. The six members of a peer learning group are managers or supervisors who have the same level of authority in the organization. They value each other’s knowledge and experience and come together for informal conversations intended to help them in their professional development.

In a peer learning group, every group member has an equal opportunity to participate and to communicate their ideas. Regardless of their background or experience, the members act as equal participants in the learning and sharing process. They welcome ideas with open minds and engage in a positive and constructive interaction without regard to seniority.

A recent study of informal learning in hospitals, published in the Journal of Workplace Learning, confirmed the importance of equality between the members of a group. It found that “an organizational culture that fosters dialogue and equal participation throughout its community boosts learning acquisition for individual members as well as for the group as a whole.” Additionally, employees find learning more enriching when it occurs among peers, in other words, among people who identify with each other as equals.

Informal Learning

The learning and sharing process needs to be informal for it to be most effective. The study also found that, “contrary to what many people and organizations may believe, the great value of learning is found, above all, in informal contexts and in interactions between people, more so than in formal learning activities.“ These informal contexts and interactions are occurring in the worksite. For that reason, peer learning groups are held onsite (or virtually) and reinforce the application of new behaviors in the flow of work.

The hospital study validates the findings of the 2020 Learning in the Workplace survey, in which over 7,500 managers and employees identified the methods that help them learn best. They rated daily work and informal knowledge sharing as essential, while they rated the more formal means of learning, eLearning and classroom training, as not important at all.

The members of a peer learning group bring their challenges, knowledge and experience to the group to aid the individual members in learning how to handle those challenges. Although they follow an agenda and written materials, the group discussion is informal, self-directed, and confidential, centered on real issues within the context of the organization and seeking practical solutions that are congruent with the organization’s culture.

Equality and Informal Learning on the Job

Clara Selva Olid, a member of the hospital study, noted that the importance of equality and informal learning was perfectly illustrated by the COVID-19 emergency. “Teams were not prepared, from a formal training point of view, to tackle a health crisis such as this one… All professionals loaded with experience and knowledge have been essential players in transforming hospitals. Organizations have spontaneously facilitated the flow of learning and the participation of all staff members to find the most appropriate solutions in a way that is not mediated hierarchically, but rather is driven by a common and shared objective.”

Peer learning groups of managers are driven by a common and shared objective: to find the best way to handle a management challenge within the context of their organization. They meet as equal peers in informal discussions onsite or virtually and seek to find practical and effective solutions to their challenges in the flow of work. As such, peer learning groups take full advantage of the positive effects of equality and informality in achieving maximal learning.

For more information about peer learning groups, please schedule a mutually convenient time to chat with one of our learning specialists:

Deborah Laurel, Chief Learning Officer, The Peer Learning Institute

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