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Peer Learning and Psychological Well-Being

Group Work Peer and Self-Assessment

Peer Learning and Psychological Well-Being

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Peer Learning and Psychological Well-Being
The reasons we should be letting students learn from and with each other continue to accumulate. Here are highlights from a large cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional study that explored the relationship between psychological well-being and peer learning experiences.

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The reasons we should be letting students learn from and with each other continue to accumulate. Here are highlights from a large cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional study that explored the relationship between psychological well-being and peer learning experiences. The researchers started with definitions. They opted for a definition of peer learning that had been used previously in research, “[t]he acquisition of knowledge and skill through active helping and support among status equals or matched companions” (2016, 193). Said more simply, peer learning includes a broad category of group work. This research team acknowledges that distinctive kinds of group work are grouped together in this definition, namely, cooperative and collaborative learning, which are often defined in terms of their differences. However, this research team identifies what these two approaches to peer learning have in common: (1) both view active learning as essential to meaningful learning; (2) both see learning as a social act that involves interaction with peers; (3) both view the teacher's primary function as facilitation; (4) learning is a shared responsibility between students and teachers; (5) the social construction of meaning plays a key role in learning; and (6) teachers should intentionally design the goals and activities of peer learning (2016, 192). These shared characteristics justify the broad characterization of group work used in this research. Psychological well-being has also been defined in previous research: “the ability to develop, maintain, and appropriately modify interdependent relationships with others to succeed in achieving goals” (2016, 194). C.D. Ryff's work identifies six dimensions of well-being that have been used extensively in research, and his instrument for measuring it was used by this research team. Psychological well-being includes autonomy (self-determination, independence), environmental mastery (control of external activities, taking advantage of opportunities), personal growth (open to new experiences, positive about change), positive relations with others (warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others), purpose in life (sense of direction, finding meaning in life), and self-acceptance (positive attitudes toward self). “High levels of psychological well-being are associated with many positive life and health outcomes, such as happiness, purpose, and satisfaction” (2016, 195). Some research on peer learning and psychological well-being has been done previously, but only with single groups or across course sections. Previous research has not addressed whether the effects of peer learning experiences are different depending on variables such as gender, race, or academic ability. And finally, up to this point, no research has looked at the influence of peer learning on the six subscales within the Ryff instrument that correspond to the dimensions described above. This study starts to address these gaps in the research. Data used in the study were collected as part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, which involved 17 four-year colleges and universities located in 11 different states and four general regions of the United States. Data were collected from the student cohort at three different times, starting at the beginning of their college careers and ending shortly before graduation. Overall, the results indicated a modest general effect of peer learning on psychological well-being at the end of four years of college. “These results suggest that working closely with peers on classroom projects may exert a modest positive influence on students' psychological well-being” (2016, 200). And that positive effect was experienced across the board by students. “These results suggest that peer learning has a positive influence on students' overall psychological well-being, regardless of their sex, race, or academic ability” (2016, 201). And finally, the positive, statistically significant influence of peer learning was associated with five of the six Ryff subscales. In the case of the positive relations with others scale, the results suggest “that engagement in peer learning may not help students develop traits associated with positive relations with others” (2016, 201). Group work in its various forms has been shown repeatedly to positively influence learning outcomes. Students can learn course content from and with others. Group experiences have also been shown to develop the various skills associated with productively working with others. And now, in this case, peer learning is emerging as an experience with positive implications for students' overall psychological health. The reasons for using group work are convincing but not without a caveat that needs to be regularly repeated. The benefits of working with others are not automatic. They do not result from simply putting students together in groups. Group work that promotes learning is carefully designed, implemented, and assessed. Reference: Hanson, J. M., T.L. Trolian, M.B Paulsen, and E.T. Pascarella. 2016. Evaluating the influence of peer learning on psychological well-being. Teaching in Higher Education 21 (2): 191–206.