Peer-to-Peer Learning: How to Get it Right

With many baby boomers retiring soon, planning for your organization’s succession is more critical than it has been in decades. One unexpected, but effective, method for identifying and training successors can be found in a peer-to-peer learning infrastructure.

Peer-to-peer learning is an organic way to pass the torch from one generation to the next. A less formal, peer-based learning infrastructure offers low-stakes opportunities for employees to find and explore their organizational niche. This also allows senior employees to transfer their knowledge and experience to newer employees — and vice versa.

“Peer-to-peer learning offers a process for transferring institutional knowledge and experience,” says Tony Dixon, owner and chief leadership and change management consultant at Lead Thru Inspiration. The benefits of peer-to-peer learning go beyond succession planning. “It can stimulate even more learning because people are exposed to other perspectives,” Dixon says. “Employees can build on that knowledge and become more open to different ideas.”

Here are three steps you can take to facilitate peer-to-peer learning at your organization.

Achieve Employee Buy-In Through Legacy-Building

When establishing a peer-to-peer learning framework, you may encounter resistance in the form of knowledge siloing. This can make employee buy-in difficult to achieve. As a counter, Dixon suggests reframing the conversation. “If you ask a lifelong employee how much they value the work they’ve put in over the years, you’ll often hear that it defined careers — and lives,” he says. If not shared, that knowledge will be lost as employees leave or retire.

“Once you connect with an employee personally like that, motivations can shift,” he continues. “Work becomes a point of pride, and sharing it is part of building a legacy.” For peer-to-peer learning to be successful, employees have to be eager and willing to share their knowledge. Framing the conversation in terms of legacy can help employees take pride in their work and become excited to share what they’ve learned.

Prioritize Employee Knowledge Transfer

While employee buy-in is critical, it’s also important for employees to understand how much knowledge sharing means to the organization. HR can play a direct role in this by tying learning and teaching to performance. Incentivizing peer-to-peer learning with bonuses or career advancement opportunities demonstrates the value it holds for the C-suite.

“Organizations might consider basing a portion of the employee performance review on how much employees improved over time and how much they taught others,” suggests Tim Toterhi, coach, speaker and author at Plotline Leadership. “That incentive can get employees to ask questions about who can teach what material, and it can take some of the pressure off of HR by motivating employees to teach and learn.”

Let Employee Learning Unfold Organically

One huge advantage of peer-to-peer learning is the relationships between teachers and learners. These types of peer relationships are based on trust and respect and can go a long way in supporting a culture of learning at your organization. Once you’ve established how important sharing knowledge is for the organization and employees, it’s time to take a step back to give employee relationships and learning room to grow.

“Tie employee learning outcomes to personal growth, and you can drive learning forward,” Toterhi suggests. “Peer-to-peer learning provides the opportunity to both lead and learn, so that employees are teaching, learning and growing.” Growth that occurs organically and is shaped by peers is best positioned to move the needle on performance and can set your organization up for long-term success.