December 5, 2023

Cultivate empowerment and agency to support learning

One of the critical learning and development trends we see in early 2023 is peer-to-peer learning becoming essential in upskilling and reskilling efforts within organizations. With peer-to-peer engagement, learning is no longer a necessary and burdensome requirement, but an organically evolving learning experience among employees. Peer-to-peer learning has many benefits for both students and the organization.

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

Peer-to-peer learning is based on constructivist adult learning theory, where people learn from each other face-to-face in the virtual classroom, through communities of practice, and on the job. Peer-to-peer learning is meaningful because it highlights that employees bring valuable experience and expertise. These can be shared and used across the organization to drive business results. Peer-to-peer learning is beneficial for both students and the organization.

Advantages of peer-to-peer learning

On the one hand, peer-to-peer learning provides emerging leaders in every line of business with the opportunity to create and manage online learning and supplement it with personalized mentoring and coaching for their peers. On the other hand, it encourages younger students to feel more comfortable and psychologically safe learning from their peers. Peer-to-peer learning becomes fun and no longer an intimidating experience, delivered by externally sourced experts who typically lack knowledge of the organization’s context and culture. This type of learning brings numerous other benefits: it costs the organization less in hard dollars, creates an organic, high-potential internal pipeline, promotes faster upskilling, promotes employee engagement and belonging, promotes diversity, equity and inclusion, and strengthens organizational culture. Peer-to-peer learning is a win-win trend.

How to create a successful peer-to-peer education program

A proven approach to developing peer-to-peer programs involves five basic steps: empowering a small group of lead mentors; student cohort identification; cultivating empowerment and representation, monitoring and measurement; and recognize and celebrate.

Strengthen the team of leading mentors and students

To pilot a peer-to-peer learning program, you’ll need to choose a practical and actionable skill that employees in your organization will need to master in order to achieve business results. For example, in a learning organization, it is essential to provide well-designed, web-based learning events. Another critical skill is data storytelling. To find out which skill is most needed, you can triangulate data from three sources: conducting a skills gap analysis in your organization, asking employees what skills they feel they need, and aligning with the organization’s performance plan and the CEO’s agenda.

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

Design a Program

Furthermore, in close collaboration with the lead mentors, you can share your broad vision for the program. For example, why does your organization need this skill? How does it affect the organization’s performance goals? By when are new skills required? Spend some time discussing the big picture, including the “why” and the “what.” It is recommended not to solve the “how”. Allow peer mentors and students to figure out how to structure and execute the program. Then you step back and let them design and run.

Cultivate empowerment and agency

Your role as a Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program Champion is to foster and cultivate empowerment and agency among lead mentors and students. Offer them the psychological safety and upper cover to come up with the content, approach, details, milestones and timeline of the peer-to-peer program. Then hold them accountable. This is an excellent opportunity for leadership mentors to practice and deepen their leadership skills; they will have to make decisions and be accountable for results. It is also a great opportunity for students to provide their perspectives and feedback to the peer-to-peer pilot as it develops. Lead mentors and students co-shape, design, deliver and iterate the curriculum.

Monitor and measure

As a champion, you can help by engaging with lead mentors to monitor program progress on a regular basis, such as once a week or every two weeks. Their responsibilities include monitoring, measuring and reporting results. How does the cohort evolve? Who needs another nudge? What are some of the biggest challenges they face and how do they deal with them? These are some crucial questions to ask the main mentors. You can also involve members of the peer-to-peer learning pilot project and ask them for their impressions and feedback on the program. Encourage both students and lead mentors to measure their progress and reflect on outcomes. As a champion, you will need to review feedback and take action. If necessary, you can remove any obstacles to facilitate the successful implementation of the peer-to-peer pilot program.

Recognize and celebrate

Ultimately, as the peer-to-peer pilot concludes, you will need to acknowledge, reward and celebrate everyone involved. Take the opportunity to stop and celebrate everyone’s efforts. Also, see how the pilot went and ask lead mentors and participants to share their experiences and highlight wins, challenges and their biggest takeaways. It is recommended to involve the direct managers of both lead mentors and students. For example, invite them to celebrate the end of the program. Assuming the pilot has been successful, you can explore whether it would be beneficial to scale it up to more mentors and participants and achieve business results together.


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

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