The benefits of peer-to-peer 'DIY' learning


Good findings from the research to recognise the expertise within organisations and peer to peer training. This happens all the time through knowledge conversations, formalising it and using a ...

Read More Karen Waite
Add a comment

It’s said that you learn most easily from those you know. So why should this be any different in the workplace?

In most organisations L&D has traditionally been delivered by HR or by external training providers shipped in to bring employees up to speed on a particular skill. But organisations are increasingly exploring the notion of employees delivering L&D to each other. CIPD research recently showed that training from peers is the most useful method, and even referred to it as “the new normal”.

The logic is that if organisations have spent years working on a company vision and culture, it could be risky to bring in an outsider with different values and ways of working to teach new recruits the ropes.

It’s a challenge international recruitment company VHR was facing. “We were struggling to find experienced recruitment consultants that matched our high standards,” says Jai Popat, HR and recruitment manager. “So we thought we could try utilising our existing experienced employees and skilled L&D department to train up new recruits.

“The company gets the benefit of a new recruit that is trained up to an incredibly high standard, instead of someone who may have exaggerated their experience or a new graduate with no experience who may not be cut out for the job.”

This type of employee-to-employee training works because the trainers know firsthand the skills they are training others in, meaning “there’s no gap between the roles”, she adds. “The consultants have done the job, they have the experience, they can answer any questions completely honestly. The trainees then know exactly what to expect, and they know they can ask questions and get genuine answers and advice that works.”

Further reading

Do apprenticeships need a new look?

Executive education: Are MBAs fit for purpose?

Leaders unprepared to drive digital skills transformation

Low-paid workers missing out on training opportunities

It’s a sentiment shared by Anna Stokes, learning and development co-ordinator at charity Making Space, which taps into the expertise of its workforce to train employees in areas particularly critical to the charity’s cause such as dementia training. Stokes explains that in a charity setting training often needs to be quite specialised or personalised and there can be bureaucracy to overcome. Which means having someone familiar with the way the organisation works can be a huge asset.

“Our dementia trainer Kath [Penrith] is a consultant Admiral nurse and she’s currently writing some new training as we speak,” says Stokes. “She knows the quirks of the service as well as the heart of the organisation. She also has a great understanding of what her colleagues face every day. Some trainers might come in and produce a standard form and we might end up saying ‘that’s not going to work for us’.”

Penrith also equips colleagues with training skills so they can go on to teach others. “We have some great trainers but often they can have a blanket approach and this is so much easier,” says Stokes, adding that this has time-saving benefits for the charity too.

But staying true to brand identity and delivering business-specific content is just part of the picture. Many believe that it’s not just the trainees that benefit from this approach to L&D – or the organisation that saves on training costs. The employees delivering the training also benefit from this as a professional development opportunity. While trainees enjoy firsthand experience, mentorship and support from someone they know, the trainer “gets experience in training someone up that they take with them into managerial roles”, Popat says.

Such a shift away from utilising the external expertise of training providers towards a more internal approach can be daunting though. So some organisations are helping to bridge the gap.

Business consultancy Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? facilitates bespoke employee-to-employee leader-led training in organisations, with the aim of helping teams achieve exceptional performance. “In the training leaders and teams take up to 45 minutes per session to understand, practise and apply proven performance principles that help them to perform at a higher level. Over time it creates a powerful toolkit for managers and their teams to use to improve the way they work together and how they perform,” says commercial and marketing director Chris Martin.

The programme is supported by an online platform that houses key content including film, quizzes and further performance support. “Critically this is where teams share the evidence of their success and can ask for help from others in their department or the wider business,” says Martin.

Key is the sense of competition it encourages among teams. “Healthy competition breeds relationships not extended silos,” he says. “At the end of the programme delegates hold a podium day to share with a wider audience and each other what they have achieved.” This brings the added bonus of improving teamwork among employees, he adds.

Yet there are downsides to L&D teams taking a DIY approach. While agreeing that employee-to-employee learning can work well, Susy Roberts, executive coach and founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts, warns that relying on employees to know what their colleagues need poses a risk.

“People have different learning styles, which good leaders will take into account when creating teams. When employees deliver training to their peers they are unlikely to be as fully aware – if aware at all – of the need to take into account these differences,” she explains. “This could lead to frustration from both the person delivering the training and the people who are learning.”

Even if the person delivering the training excels in their position and has been given a thorough grounding in what needs to be delivered, Roberts points out that “there’s a risk of the training having little impact if both sides become frustrated because of a mismatch in learning styles”.

Internal employee relationships could also be put under strain; something that isn’t a factor when bringing an external trainer in. As Roberts says: “If there’s already a feeling of resentment due to office politics the learner could dismiss what’s being delivered simply on the basis that they do not like the person delivering the training.”

There’s the pressures on the trainers to consider too, adds Popat. “Employee-to-employee training is obviously more work for the person doing the training,” she says. “They may have targets to hit, meetings to attend and deadlines to meet and this all eats away at their time.”

She advises HR to ensure trainers have adequate support to maintain all their usual obligations and to take their additional responsibilities into consideration when setting targets.

“The employee must understand what is expected of them and the level of work involved. We have someone above them for both parties to check in with, who can measure progress as well as lend a hand,” says Popat. “This way we know exactly what level everyone’s at and can help if needed.”

But most importantly it’s about knowing your colleagues and their strengths, she adds: “Pick the right employees who are motivated to do the work.”

This piece appeared in the May 2019 issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk


Good findings from the research to recognise the expertise within organisations and peer to peer training. This happens all the time through knowledge conversations, formalising it and using a platform to share and collaborate will reinforce a learning culture and positive approach to professional development.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code

All comments are moderated and may take a while to appear.