Cohort Learning: 2023 L&D Trends

Cultivate empowerment and agency to drive learning

One of the critical learning and development trends we see as 2023 begins is peer-to-peer learning, which is becoming critical to upskilling and retraining efforts in organizations. With peer-to-peer engagement, learning is no longer a must-do, burdensome requirement, but an organically evolving learning experience among employees. Peer-to-peer learning has many advantages for both the learners and the organization.

What is peer-to-peer learning and why is it important?

Peer-to-peer learning is grounded in the constructivist adult learning theory, where people learn from each other personally in the virtual classroom, through a community of practice and on the job. Peer-to-peer learning is meaningful because it emphasizes that employees bring valuable experience and expertise. These can be shared and leveraged within the organization to drive business results. Peer-to-peer learning is beneficial for both the students and the organization.

Advantages of peer-to-peer learning

On the one hand, peer-to-peer learning allows emerging leaders in every industry to create and curate online learning and supplement it with personal mentoring and coaching for their peers. On the other hand, it encourages younger students to feel more comfortable and psychologically secure in learning from their peers. Peer-to-peer learning becomes fun and is no longer an intimidating experience, delivered by externally procured subject matter experts who typically lack knowledge of the organization’s context and culture. This type of learning brings several additional benefits: it is less expensive in hard dollars for the organization, creates an organic, internal, high-potential pipeline, promotes upskilling faster, promotes employee engagement and belonging, supports diversity, equity and inclusion, and strengthens organizational culture. Peer-to-peer learning is a win-win trend that is here to stay.

How to develop a successful peer-to-peer learning program

A proven approach to developing peer-to-peer programs involves five essential steps: empowering a small group of lead mentors; identification of a cohort of learners; cultivating empowerment and agency, monitoring and measurement; and acknowledges and celebrates.

Empower a team of senior mentors and students

To establish a pilot peer-to-peer learning program, select a practical and actionable skill that employees in your organization need to master in order to deliver business results. For example, in a learning organization, delivering well-produced, web-based learning events is critical. Another critical skill is data storytelling. To find out which skill is most needed, you can triangulate the data from three sources: conducting a skills gap analysis in your organization, asking employees what skill they feel they need, and adapting the organizational performance plan and the CEO agenda.

By reviewing current data from these three sources, you can select an essential skill that employees in your organization need most. Next, identify a small team of three to four employees with experience in that particular skill and empower them to serve as lead mentors in the peer-to-peer program. It is recommended that these executive mentors come from different business units and geographies to ensure a diverse voice and representation in all dimensions of diversity. Allow the mentors to recruit a cohort of peer learners to participate in the peer-to-peer learning program.

Design the program

Next, in close collaboration with the leading mentors, you can share your broad vision of the program. For example, why does your organization need those skills? How does the organizational performance measure affect? When are the new skills needed? Spend some time discussing the big picture, including the “why” and the “what.” Addressing the “how” is not recommended. Allow the peer mentors and students to figure out how to structure and execute the program. Then you step aside and let them design and run it.

Cultivate empowerment and agency

Your role as a champion of the peer-to-peer mentoring program is to promote and cultivate empowerment and agency among the lead mentors and students. Offer them psychological security and top cover to come up with the content, approach, details, milestones and timeline of the peer-to-peer program. So hold them accountable. This is an excellent opportunity for the senior mentors to exercise and deepen their leadership skills; they will have to make decisions and be held accountable for the results. It is also a great opportunity for students to bring their perspectives and feedback to pilot the peer-to-peer program as it develops. Together, the lead mentors and the students will shape, design, deliver and iterate the learning program.

Monitor and measure

As a champion, you can help by engaging with the lead mentors to monitor program progress on a regular basis, for example weekly or bi-weekly. Their accountability involves monitoring, measuring and reporting results. How does the cohort develop? Who needs further nudging? What are some of the biggest challenges they face and how do they tackle them? These are some critical questions to ask the lead mentors. You can also engage the members of the peer-to-peer learning pilot and ask them for their impressions and feedback on the program. Encourage both the students and the lead mentors to measure their progress and reflect on the results. As a champion, you must review the feedback and act. You can remove any obstacles where necessary to facilitate the successful delivery of the peer-to-peer pilot programme.

Recognize and celebrate

Finally, as the peer-to-peer pilot concludes, you will need to acknowledge, reward and celebrate everyone involved. Take the opportunity to pause and celebrate everyone’s efforts. Also, review how the pilot turned out and ask the lead mentors and participants to share their experiences, highlighting the wins, challenges and their biggest takeaways. It is recommended to involve the direct managers of both the senior mentors and students. For example, invite them to celebrate the end of the program. Assuming the pilot was successful, explore whether it would be beneficial to scale and expand it to more mentors and participants and drive business outcomes together.

Conclusion

Peer-to-peer learning is an effective and efficient way to empower employees. It can create a culture of learning, empowerment and accountability to drive business results. As a learning and development manager, you can promote peer-to-peer learning in your organization and work with all stakeholders to drive performance.

William

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