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3 Tips to Use Peer Tutoring as an Instructional Technique

Posted by Jeff Welch on 8/1/13 4:00 AM
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One challenge that instructors often face when facilitating an instructor-led training course is appropriately handling the diverse experience levels of their participants.

Instructors, have you ever found yourself teaching a group of learners that is a mix of both seasoned, veteran employees and those who are virtually new to the organization?


The most ideal solution to that scenario would be to offer both beginner and advanced level courses with the hope that the appropriate level participants register for the appropriate level course. However, the more likely scenario is simply having one course available that everyone attends, regardless of their experience level as it relates to the course content.

If you find yourself dealing with the latter scenario, one possible solution is to incorporate the technique of Peer Tutoring. At Langevin, we define Peer Tutoring as “participants helping each other to learn under the guidance of a group leader.” Peer tutoring can also be used to give advanced participants an opportunity to help their less experienced peers.

I have used peer tutoring (or peer-assisted learning, as I sometimes call it) with a significant amount of success. However, like any other instructional technique, it has to be done in an appropriate manner to ensure maximum results. Below are three tips to effectively incorporate peer tutoring in an instructor-led training environment.

1. Seek Permission

Before simply assigning an advanced participant(s) the task of being the coach/mentor of a less experienced participant(s), you need to get their permission.

I once made the mistake of not doing this. I recall having a class of mostly less experienced participants with a handful of experienced participants. To utilize the concept of peer tutoring, I purposely arranged the seating so there was one veteran sitting among each group of new associates. I then assigned the veteran the task of being the “Coach” to each table group. I never asked the veterans’ permission, I simply assigned them the task.

Reluctantly, the experienced participants did what I asked of them, but I received several complaints from them on the end-of-course evaluation. I specifically remember one person writing “I didn’t feel comfortable babysitting the new kids all day.”

I also got feedback from the less experienced participants about the poor quality of the coaching they received from the seasoned participants. I eventually realized that without participant buy-in, the veterans were not willing to be a coach/mentor and the quality of the coaching and mentoring suffered.

2. Choose Selectively

Not every seasoned veteran is qualified to be a coach or mentor. I recall one new associate privately telling me, “My coach is confusing me by showing me too many shortcuts.”

At that point, I realized that the mentors were not necessarily trainers. They were simply subject-matter experts (SMEs) who were perhaps a bit over-zealous about their content knowledge. Due to their higher level of knowledge and expertise, they shared way too much information with the beginning learners. While the coaches thought they were being helpful in showing shortcuts and alternatives, the new learners were struggling to simply learn the standardized procedure.

After that experience, I learned that careful selection of the peer tutor is necessary. With future attempts at peer tutoring, I also found it beneficial to have a brief conversation with the specially selected veteran. I discussed “do’s and don’ts” of their coaching, as well as providing them with a checklist of specific information to cover.

3. Position Appropriately

Proper positioning of the peer tutoring experience needs to be considered to ensure the most effective results. I once made the mistake of not properly positioning the peer tutoring activity when I facilitated a customer service course years ago. Having an even number of participants, I paired the veteran employees with the newer associates. The feedback on the evaluations suggested that the less experienced participants felt inferior to their more seasoned colleagues.

Instead of viewing the pairing as an opportunity to learn from their seasoned peers, the less experienced associates viewed the experience as somewhat of a punishment or belittling. Moving forward, I learned to re-position the experience as a “beneficial opportunity to observe and ask questions of your experienced colleagues who have a wealth of real-world experience. So take full advantage of this opportunity!”

With a few modifications and adjustments, I eventually found success in incorporating peer tutoring in my instructor-led courses. If you find yourself challenged with handling the diverse experience levels of your learners, I hope you’ll consider using this instructional technique as well. I’m confident these tips will set you up for success in facilitating a peer tutoring experience.

Dealing with Difficult Participants

Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Topics: coaching, instructional techniques, tips-for-trainers

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