The future of learning is peer-to-peer

Today we launch our Innovation series, an exploration on how leaders and social innovators face challenges in dialogue, leadership and transformation. 

Peer learning is a new way of looking at how knowledge is shared and transferred between people. It’s particularly relevant to large organisations that have an interest in actively sharing their expertise to staff and other stakeholders.

In 2016 we came across peer learning in practice through our friends at Peer Academy. They were seeking a design thinking partner with a technical design team to help them imagine how a peer-to-peer learning platform might look like. More recently Kylie Long, co-founder of Peer Academy, helped launch our report on innovation in government, Hacking the Bureaucracy, in Melbourne.

We spoke with both Kylie and Onur Ekinci about how peer-to-peer learning can be used to drive innovation in an organisation.

What is peer learning?

In its broadest sense, peer learning is understood as learning from each other in informal and formal ways, with emphasis put on the collaborative part of the learning process. Peers learn from each other. There are defined roles in this relationship (such as ‘teacher’ or ‘mentor’, and ‘student’ or ‘mentee’) but these roles can shift throughout the the learning process and depend on the support and expertise provided by either peer.

Creating an innovative and creative environment requires the breaking down of silos. Peer Academy focus on building the capabilities for people of any rank in an organisation to come together and learn from one another. A fundamental principle of their work involves redistributing power inherent in hierarchies and focusing on the way people can learn from each other.

Innovation is a process, not a tool

When Kylie Long spoke at our Innovating in Government launch in Melbourne, she referred to her time working in government. The improvements she sought centred on restructuring power dynamics to improve the ability of citizens to participate in the democratic process. She said she sought ways to experiment and foster those new ideas in her department’s ecosystem.

At the time, however, there was very little support that had been put in place to assist her to work differently.

“For someone like me…when I worked in Government as a strategic planner leading in engagement and partnerships, the official requirements of my job were very technical, a [type of] planning which I wasn’t interested in it at all,” says Kylie. She ended up redesigning her job around facilitation which, in turn, gave the rest of the organisation a capability they actually wanted but hadn’t known how to express.

Peer Academy was partly formed in response to the desire to change workplace cultures. Part of the innovation process does involve changing the way we do things, our processes, habits and behaviours that, in turn, contribute to the wider culture in workplaces. Both Onur and Kylie said they have found innovative practices to be often misunderstood as they are seen as a technical tool, or a digital implementation of a tool that’s already there.

..there was a question about innovation. [This woman] had introduced innovation into her organisation, and in her story, it was in the form of tech. She was like “I’ve introduced this innovation and nobody is using it, what do I do?”

In that scenario, the focus should be on facilitating the change of behaviours. Technology becomes another tool used to facilitate innovation and make the process easier.

Changing workflows and hierarchies

If innovation is more of a process than a tool, then change needs to start with actions and behaviours. Peer Academy place an emphasis on people’s behaviour as it’s the first step in developing a sense of leadership. The importance of being process-oriented is highlighted throughout their work.

That’s not to say technology isn’t helpful or is not a part of the innovative solution. Having a digital platform and technological solutions helps to draw out where value exists in a worker’s role. It also helps disintegrate the existing social structures that might exist and impede the visibility of those employees and coworkers. 

Digital is about scaling behaviours and Peer Academy uses it to map out workflows for learners, determining how to integrate it into the platform. Kylie says that digital makes it easier for “visibility around capability,” and helps highlight individual’s strengths better than the general corporate framework. There are people within organisations who come to their job with a huge amount of potential; potential that might go amiss if their performance is measured by their limited set of tasks.

It really requires a great frame of thinking of our own sense of power within that dynamic and our own ability to actually influence new ways of doing things at any scale of an organisation.

This method allows Peer Academy to emphasise the myriad of ways an individual can contribute to their organisation. Traveling laterally through that framework is also encouraged, as more organisations focus on developing broad sets of skills rather than moving up.

Peer Academy

Peer Academy is a learning network where individuals grow into masterful innovators. They train and facilitate the spread of knowledge and leadership within organisations, sectors, and regions.

/ INNOVATING IN GOVERNMENT

The report explores the drivers of government innovation within Australia and includes a resource for individuals working in the public service to make impact and drive innovation.