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What is peer learning and how can it advance the implementation of evidence-based practices?

Author: S. Kathleen Worton






The implementation of evidence-based practices can enhance the quality and effectiveness of supports in sectors such as social services and healthcare. Peer learning is a valuable but often overlooked strategy to help those adopting a new practice gain the knowledge and skills they need to implement it successfully.

Incorporating peer learning in implementation initiatives involves creating opportunities for practitioners to share knowledge, ideas and experiences with one another. Peer learning is a reciprocal and non-hierarchical process, which differentiates it from peer teaching or train-the-trainer approaches where an experienced colleague assumes the role of an instructor or facilitator. The concept of peer learning comes from higher education, where it has been examined as a strategy for deepening knowledge and skills. A review of the implementation literature indicates that peer learning activities have been incorporated in implementation initiatives, often in combination with didactic instruction or facilitation. Some examples of activities that promote peer learning within the implementation process are presented in the table below.


Examples of Activities/Approaches that Promote Peer Learning in Implementation

Group discussion Learners take part in face-to-face discussion of the evidence-based practice (including experiences with implementation, barriers, challenges, etc.) during meetings/workshops or by conference call. Sometimes discussions are facilitated by a researcher or trainer. Small group learning exercise small group (<10) or pair participates in a learning exercise together (e.g., role play, game, vignettes). Online discussion forum/listserv/IntranetA web-based forum, portal, or mailing list is used by learners to communicate with one another on an as-needed basis.Network/Community of practice learners interact with one another on an ongoing basis through meetings or activities that involve learners discussing their experiences implementing the evidence-based practice. Team-based implementation teams are formed to implement the evidence-based practice in an organization or community, often involving learners in different roles across an organization or system.


Different peer learning strategies have been included in implementation initiatives to advance various capacity-building goals. When the goal is to help individual practitioners adopt an evidence-based practice in their own work, peer learning is often incorporated through activities such as role-play, peer assessment with feedback, or case presentations/discussions during training sessions or workshops. When the goal is to assist practitioners in building relationships and connections to implement an evidence-based practice over time, strategies such as networks, communities of practice, or team-based implementation have been used. These strategies have often involved engaging practitioners through regularly scheduled, facilitated meetings or calls in which practitioners discuss their experiences, share ‘lessons learned’ and support one another in navigating implementation challenges.

Although more research is needed, peer learning has been linked to the advancement of practitioners’ knowledge, skills and positive attitudes towards the evidence-based practice being implemented. Group-based peer learning activities – such as communities of practice or networks – have been linked to increased social support and the generation of new knowledge through ongoing problem solving and discussion.

Intentionally incorporating and evaluating peer learning in future implementation initiatives will serve two purposes. First, it will help advance our understanding of how – and to what extent – peer learning influences the successful implementation of evidence-based practices. Second, it will help to democratize the implementation process by providing practitioners with more opportunities to contribute their knowledge, experience, and wisdom.


 

You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

 

Image credit: Photo by Leon on Unsplash

 

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