Peer-assisted learning

What can I do?

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  1. Use peer-assisted learning with students while they’re completing professional practice placements [1,2,3,4]
  2. Have students teach each other practical skills, but not theoretical knowledge [2]
  3. Don’t rush things. Peer-assisted learning (like most learning) takes time [2]

What is this about?

Peer-assisted learning involves having students teach and learn from each other. This can include students from a higher year teaching those in lower ones (near-peer) or students at the same level teaching each other (peer-to-peer). This approach is thought to support learning in two ways. First, students might be more likely to explain ideas in simpler and more direct ways than educators. Educators can often succumb to the curse of knowledge and forget how challenging it was to learn certain information, whereas students are much more familiar with the challenges of learning and so are more appreciative of their peers’ needs. Second, learning from peers is one mechanism thought to drive learning outcomes, but so too is teaching peers. Teaching others requires students to reflect more deeply on what they’ve learned including what they understand and what they don’t. As such, reflecting, preparing, and delivering learning is another mechanism thought to drive learning outcomes as a result of peer-assisted learning.

What's the evidence say?

The most reliable evidence on peer-assisted learning shows that students are just as good as educators when it comes to teaching [1]. The impact of students as teachers is small (➕➕) and not significant, meaning they have the same effect on learning as educations. In another study of lesser quality [2], students-teaching-student had a medium effect on student learning (➕➕➕➕). The effect increased when this approach was used with clinical (➕➕➕➕➕) as opposed to pre-clinical students (➕➕➕), with the latter not being statistically significant. It also increased when used for practical skills (➕➕➕➕➕) compared to theoretical knowledge (➖/➕) and when learning was assessed +4 weeks after peer-assisted learning was used (➕➕➕➕➕) compared to less than 4 weeks (➕). The latter was not statistically significant.

What's the underlying theory?

  1. Social Cognitive Theory suggests that peer-assisted learning can influence learning by providing students with opportunities to observe and model the behaviours and strategies of their peers. Through observing and interacting with their peers, students can acquire new information, develop new skills and strategies, and acquire new values and beliefs.
  2. Social Constructivism theory suggests that learning is an active process of constructing meaning from interactions and experiences. Peer-assisted learning environments provide students with the opportunity to construct knowledge through active engagement and collaboration with their peers, thus fostering deep understanding of the material.
  3. Self-Determination Theory, suggest that peer-assisted learning can enhance motivation and engagement by promoting a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy refers to the feeling of being in control of one's own learning and decisions. Competence refers to the feeling of being capable and effective. Relatedness refers to the feeling of being connected to others. Peer-assisted learning can foster these feelings by providing clear goals, rules, and feedback, and by giving students a sense of choice and control over their learning experience.

Where does the evidence come from?

This summary is informed directly by four meta-analyses and supported by an additional two systematic reviews. The first paper [2] that informs this summary is of modest quality (➕➕). It included 27 randomised-controlled trials, but reported a considerably high heterogeneity (93%) and a likely publication bias, and only considered medical students. The second study [3] was of low quality (➕). It included 11 studies that used a pre-post research design. Again, heterogeneity was high (98%) and the primary studies were exclusive to medical students, and no assessment of publication bias was reported. While the effect size was large (ES = 1.26), the confidence interval around it was wide (.58, 1.94) raising questions about the precision of the findings. The third study [1] was of modest quality (➕➕➕). It included 13 randomised-controlled trials. Initial heterogeneity was high, but, when one primary outlier study was removed, the heterogeneity was reduced, but was still high. Removing this study also reduced the effect size and resulted in a non-significant main effect. That is, peer-assisted learning was no better than teacher-led instruction. Analyses revealed limited risk of publication bias for this meta-analysis, but, as before, the sample was restricted to solely medical students. The fourth study [4] was of poor quality (➕). It included a variety of methods (not just randomised-controlled trials) and, again, was exclusive to medical students. No publication bias or analysis of heterogeneity were reported, but the number of studies and width of the confidence intervals were within acceptable limits.


  1. Zhang, Y., & Maconochie, M. (2022). A meta-analysis of peer-assisted learning on examination performance in clinical knowledge and skills education. BMC Medical Education, 22(1), 147.
  2. Brierley, C., Ellis, L., & Reid, E. R. (2022). Peer-assisted learning in medical education: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medical Education, 56(4), 365-373.
  3. Guraya, S. Y., & Abdalla, M. E. (2020). Determining the effectiveness of peer-assisted learning in medical education: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, 15(3), 177-184.
  4. Rees, E. L., Quinn, P. J., Davies, B., & Fotheringham, V. (2016). How does peer teaching compare to faculty teaching? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medical teacher, 38(8), 829–837.

Additional Resources

  1. Sevenhuysen, S., Thorpe, J., Molloy, E., Keating, J., & Haines, T. (2017). Peer-assisted learning in education of allied health professional students in the clinical setting: A systematic review. Journal of Allied Health, 46(1), 26-35.
  2. Hernández Coliñir, J., Molina Gallardo, L., González Morales, D., Ibáñez Sanhueza, C., & Jerez Yañez, O. (2022). Characteristics and impacts of peer assisted learning in university studies in health science: A systematic review. Revista Clínica Española (English Edition), 222(1), 44-53.