Peer-to-peer learning

May 14, 2021

Perspective

With the post-pandemic era coming into view, a visiting scholar in the Jepson School looks ahead to the changes that will last in K-12 education.
By Rana Dajani

As an educator at heart and in practice for more than 30 years, first as a primary school teacher for 10 years and then in higher education, I have come to realize that our students need more from our education systems, now more than ever.

With COVID-19 driving learning online, the whole concept of education as we know it is in question. Our current system is lacking in its ability to give our students the opportunity to be immersed in real-life situations; in using all parts of their brains; in having fun while learning — a fun that is a self-fulfilling kind of fun; in learning from failure; and in approaching learning holistically, weaving different disciplines together to create a tapestry that is richer than each thread by itself.

Before COVID-19 we were already questioning the future of education. Information was readily available online at the fingertips of students. “So why do we need to go to school,” they often asked.

Today, COVID-19 has propelled us into that future without schools, just as students were imagining. And what have we learned?

Students are still learning, but because they want to, not because they have to. This is the future of education.

The future of education is all about motivation, fostering curiosity, resiliency, and the desire to learn so that students can seek out opportunities to learn what they want and need to learn. And if they can’t find those opportunities we will teach them to create and design them out of necessity.

The role of the teacher becomes the guide on the side: the one to inspire, to provoke, to motivate, to coach. Such services cannot be provided by the internet. Inspiration and motivation require human interaction.

However, because of COVID-19, we currently are not able to interact human to human. This requires educators to be creative ourselves and find ways to inspire students to initiate this needed interaction with who they can interact with — their families or with those in their small social bubbles. This allows the student to foster a sense of responsibility and actively engage in their own peer-to-peer learning.

Currently, as a visiting scholar at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, I teach a course called Reimagining Success, and it is all about fostering curiosity, seeking answers, and peer-to-peer learning.

Students create skits with their family members. They create a children’s book with students halfway around the world and from a different culture. Students have had to figure out how to communicate, build skills of respect, grit, perseverance, and empathy along the way.

This unique “learn from home” setting allows the student to embark on new experiences and journeys of learning that we as educators would have not imagined otherwise because we were never forced to try them.

It is this type of learning that brings us back to our roots. It taps into how humans evolved to learn. Humans evolved to learn through interaction with other humans. Education now and after COVID-19 must realign with this type of learning.

In the end, I believe COVID-19 will make stronger and more well-rounded students if we as educators are given the room to embrace the moment and to foster these creative peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

Making these types of student experiences a priority will give them a taste of real life — a life with the frustrations, the epiphanies, the comradeship, and shared humanity across the globe, which today is more relevant than ever.

I see a world where when our future leaders are tasked with a problem, they know how to identify and then attempt to solve that problem together. This starts with our children. We must teach them how.