Peer-Led Team Learning

This material was originally developed by the PKAL
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: November 14, 2008

Developed Pratibha Varma-Nelson, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

What is Peer-Led Team Learning?

The Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) Workshops generally supplement the lecture. PLTL [] can be used in a course with any size enrollment. Under the PLTL model, undergraduate students who have done well in the class previously are recruited and trained as workshop leaders or peer leaders who guide the efforts of a group of six to eight students. These peer-led groups meet weekly (separate from the lecture and the instructor) to work together on problems that are carefully structured to help the students build conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills. There are no answer keys for either the students or the peer-leaders; the emphasis is on learning to find, evaluate, and build confidence in answers. Simultaneously, the workshops and the peer leaders provide a supportive environment that helps each student participate actively in the process of learning science. Thus, PLTL offers a mix of active-learning opportunities for students and a new role for undergraduate peer leaders that is appropriate for their stage of development; PLTL has been used successfully in courses in chemistry, biology, physics, math, computer science, and engineering. In practice, the weekly workshop replaces traditional recitation sections led by graduate teaching assistants or faculty. Although most peer leaders are undergraduates, many graduate students with appropriate training have also worked effectively and enthusiastically in that role.

Why Use Peer-Led Team Learning?

PLTL increases student engagement, motivation and performance. Studies comparing groups with and without workshops reveal that participation in workshops leads to higher percentage of students earning grades of A,B or C. Several studies have also documented a significant increase in performance on standardized tests.

Workshop leaders themselves reap significant ongoing benefits from their roles. Leading workshops reinforces the breadth and depth of their own learning, helps them develop personal qualities such as confidence and perseverance, and fosters a variety of presentation and team related skills.

Gafney, L. and Varma-Nelson, P. (2008) Peer-Led Team Learning: Evaluation, Dissemination and Institutionalization of a College level Initiative, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Springer.

Peer-Led Team Learning offers a number of educational opportunities:

  • Solving problems in workshop allows students to assess their own understanding of key course concepts
  • The supportive, small-group format encourages questions and discussions that lead to conceptual understanding
  • Students learn through explaining concepts to other students
  • Many students are more willing to discuss their questions with other students than with a professor
  • Students learn to work in teams and to communicate effectively
  • Peer leaders learn teaching and group management skills and gain self-confidence

How to Implement Peer-Led Team Learning in your courses?

Through many years of workshop evaluations, the developers of PLTL identified six "critical components" vital to ensuring the success of a PLTL program.
1. It is essential that the workshops are closely integrated with the course and all its elements.
2. Faculty teaching these courses must be actively involved with the workshops and with the peer leaders.
3. Peer leaders are students who have taken the course, who have good people skills, and who are well-trained and supervised in facilitating small-group collaborative-learning sessions.
4. Workshop problems must be appropriately challenging and designed for use in collaborative group learning settings.
5. Organizational arrangements must ensure adequate and appropriate rooms for conducting workshop sessions.
6. Institutional and departmental support of innovative teaching methods is essential, including logistical and financial support.

Gosser, D., Cracolice, M., Kampmeier, J., Roth, V., Strozak, V., Varma-Nelson, P. (2001). Peer-Led Team Learning: A Guidebook. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


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