‘Method of the Month’ is a series of articles aiming to highlight some of the resources available on MedEdWorld relating to specific topics in medical education. This month we will be focusing on peer assisted learning.


There has been a growing interest in the added-value that learning from peers can offer students at all levels of education, from primary school through to work-based and lifelong learning, and a strong recognition of the importance of promoting teaching and learning skills amongst medical students to promote their own learning and their professional competencies.

Peer Assisted Learning has been defined as “people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers helping each other to learn and learning themselves by teaching” (Topping 1996).  They need not be from the same course or year of study, and are not professional teachers or ‘experts’ in the subject (Ross and Cameron, 2007).  Several other terms are also commonly used, including: peer appraisal, peer assessment, peer tutoring, peer teaching, student teaching/tutoring/mentoring, peer assisted writing, study advisory schemes, and peer supported learning. Further details can be found in the MedEdWorld Glossary, a dynamic database that is a source of information about the expanding vocabulary used in medical education.

The Reflections section on MedEdWorld is a space in which MedEdWorld members can share their thoughts and experiences on medical education issues, practices, and news of recently attended conferences, courses and workshops.  A reflection by Dr Mario Blanco (Tufts University School of Medicine), Peer Learning as a Promising Educational Method  draws on her experience of implementing peer learning with medical students. Do you have similar experiences or tips for introducing peer learning to medical students you wish to share with the medical education community? For guidance on how to add content please see our guide or YouTube video.

 The Publications area of MedEdWorld contains summaries and links to a wide range of articles on peer teaching and learning in medicine. Amongst these are a number of articles that review the literature on peer learning, identifying trends and typologies (Berghmans et al. 2013; Ross and Cameron, 2007; Topping 2005Topping 1996; and Yu et al. 2011).  In addition there are a number of ‘Twelve Tips’ articles available on topics including: running junior-doctor-led teaching programmes (Mabvuure et al., 2013); developing near-peer shadowing programmes in clinical training (Turner et al., 2012); and running teaching programmes for newly qualified doctors (Kirkham and Baker, 2012).

In an editorial on peer-learning Dr Michael Ross (2012) highlights the benefits of lifelong teaching alongside lifelong learning and identifies five principal means by which medical students can learn to function effectively as teachers.  A number of articles report on the experience of implementing peer, or near-peer learning initiatives (Blanco et al., 2014; Erlich and Shaughnessy, 2014; Nelson et al., 2013; Qureshi et al., 2013; Taylor et al, 2013; and Yusoff et al., 2009). Others report on the implementation of peer learning in specific areas, such as anatomy (Lachman et al., 2013); dissection (Hall et al., 2013); musculoskeletal ultrasound (Knobe, 2012); surgical skills laboratory training (Beard et al., 2012); Physical examination skills (St-Onge et al., 2013); clinical examination (Silbert and Lake, 2012); an OSCE (Burgess et al., 2013); clinical reasoning (Zijdenbos et al., 2010); and a vertical study programme (Kam et al., 2013).

The value of peer feedback as an aid to learning is discussed by Burgess et al. (2013), and Cushing et al. (2011). Koehler and McMenamin (2014) identify the need for a peer physical examination policy  to protect students who are taking the role as patients in peer examinations. Others report on the outcome of research and evaluations into the impact and success of various peer learning initiatives (Basehore et al., 2014; Batchelder et al., 2010; Glynn et al., 2006; Muir and Law, 2014Nofziger et al., 2010; Turner et al., 2012). These and many other articles can be found within the Publications section of MedEdWorld, and members are encouraged to ‘like’ or add their comments about these articles on the site, as well as adding details of any other articles that they would like to recommend through the Add Content feature.  

The Publications section also contains links to several textbooks on peer learning , such as  Peer Teaching and Learning in Clinical Education (Secomb, 2010); Learning Together: Peer Tutoring in Higher Education (Falchikov, 2001); and Peer Learning in Higher Education (Boud, Cohen, and Sampson 2001). Useful chapters on peer learning are also available in a number of medical education textbooks including: Essential Skills for a Medical Teacher (Harden and Laidlaw 2012, chapter 27), and  A Practical Guide for Medical Teachers (Dent and Harden (Eds.) 2013, chapter 16 by Ross and Cumming).  Links to purchase these books are available in the Publications area of MedEdWorld. For each book purchased through these links a small donation is made to MedEdWorld. If you would like to recommend any other textbooks to the community, please do so using the Add Content feature.

 MedEd Publish, an e-library for papers that have not been published elsewhere features a number of papers that relate to peer learning.  Whittaker (2013) examines the use of an internet discussion forum as a remote community of practice for geographically dispersed registrars; whilst Rukmini and Linarto (2013) report on the piloting of visualised and peer-assisted learning (VPAL) within biomedical sciences and respiratory system teaching blocks.  Readers are invited to rate MedEd Publish papers on the grounds of their usefulness to the reader, and to comment and reflect on papers via the comments box. Further information regarding MedEd Publish can be found at .
The Resources section on MedEdWorld contains a range of information and websites on peer learning.  For example, there is a video lecture, The Impact of Peer Assessment on Professional Development by Professor Ronald Epstein; videos of students perspectives on peer tutoring, The Dos and Don’ts of Peer Tutoring, and the Peer Tutoring Program at Duke-NUS. Developing residents as future educators is a video discussion on near-peer teaching with Dr Bradley Sharpe and Professor Robert Kamei.  The BigSib Programme Guidebook from the Universiti Sains Malaysia is for students taking part in student development activities.   Finally, The Pimlico Connection website which contains details of a peer-tutoring scheme that has been running for almost 40 years,  and Developing teaching skills in medical students: Peer assisted learning in patient centred interviewing,  a review of a PAL programme in communication skills  at Imperial College London. Do you know of any other Resources on peer-learning? Please add them to the site.

The Method of the Month Forum will focus on teaching peer learning in medicine this month and welcomes contributions from members.  

Catherine Kennedy,
AMEE Education Officer
May 2014