A Project to Dimensionalize Peer-Learning Patterns

Peer-to-peer learning has great potential to transform education and research and build community. Normally, peer-to-peer learning is done informally which is fine but has its limits. In my own work I've seen that providing more structure can help it to reach its potential and deliver a better quality experience and outcome.

I. About peer-to-peer learning

II. An application of peer-to-peer learning to Argentine Tango

I. About peer-to-peer learning

Monolithic, factory-style education has many serious limitations

  • One-size-fits all. Every classroom is heterogenous. Individuals have different needs. One-size-fits-all won't fit everyone

  • Not feasible to train teachers. Relies on training a special class of formal "teachers" - that's expensive and hard to maintain in a changing world

  • Heavy expense and administrative burden. Convening a group of similar students together at the same time and place is expensive

  • Time-constrained. Because of the expense of space and teachers, there is hurry and stress to learn things at the pace of the "group"

  • Can't teach body skills. One-to-many instruction isn't a good fit for helping people learn many kinesthetic, social/emotional skills

  • Dilutes motivation. Students in a group can lose motivation and become disengaged because they aren't interested in the class topic

  • Hierarchy feeds passivity. Teachers telling students what they should do/think when can lead to passivity and disengagement

  • Fosters separation. Culture of seeking teacher's approval can foster distancing between students 

  • Doesn't motivate experts. The format doesn't incentivize experts to participate meaningfully in teaching and learning 


Peer-to-peer learning systems allow to people learn productively from friends and peers

  • Micro-learning. A high level of granularity in lessons allows peer-teachers to become good at teaching specific things

  • Pointability. A P2P system provides a catalog of sequenced micro-topics (a curriculum) so that the learner can point to what they want/need

  • Lineage. Each peer-teacher learned what they are teaching 1:1 from someone who helped them, giving them confidence and detail 

  • Self-paced. Without the need to conform to a group's pace and space/time pressures, learners can take the time they need

  • Found spaces for learning. Learning can happen any setting where people can get together, like homes, clubs or parks

  • Social motivation

> Learning what you are interested in, when you want, 1:1 from more experienced peers, one bit at a time, is exciting and generates momentum.  

> Helping others learn builds confidence and a sense of contribution and mastery

  • Builds community. Sharing a learning experience creates a memorable connection that builds community  

  • Cheap and accessible. Learning could be freely accessible to anyone if supported by well-functioning P2P systems and curricula 

  • Student-centered. The learner works with whatever they are interested in or whatever they need to learn with a peer helper

  • Exciting roles for experts. Experts can contribute in new ways: training peer-teachers, verifying skill acquisition, developing curricula and setting standards. 

II. An application of peer-to-peer learning to Argentine Tango

1) Why tango?

Tango is an improvisational dance that requires two people to fine-tune their attention and movement and work in an intimately coordinated way.

Peer-to-peer learning has been a part of Tango learning since its beginnings, and continues to be an important engine of Tango's growth. During the Golden Age of Tango in Buenos Aires, most people learned tango informally, in homes and social clubs.

Beginners love learning directly from more experienced dancers, and experienced dancers develop confidence and mastery by helping others learn - all while great friendships get built.

Most tango dancers have had the experience of learning a lot from someone who's not "officially" a teacher. And most teachers do all they can to ensure there are lots of more experienced dancers at classes and practicas help out. We set out to add a bit more structure, so that tango buddies know more about how they can help.

2) The process and approach

At the San Diego Tango Festival in Dec 2016, we facilitated the Beginner Bootcamp as a peer-to-peer learning experience. Video by Andrei Andreev

Creating a P2P system for Tango is a work-in-progress and development is happening in collaboration with tango dancers in Southern California including at Oxygen Tango in these ways:

  • Inventing a new format. A new kind of learning format, which we're calling a "learning lab," is a setting for exploring P2P. During a lab, students pair up to work on a missions together. They may teach or learn 3-4 different missions with different buddies. The host teacher circulates to support and correct. At the end, there is an inspiration round where students demo works-in-progress.

  • Reorganizing curriculum for P2P. Organizing the tango curriculum into tiny "missions," grouped into sequenced levels, and writing concise instructions to help buddies be effective, requires considerable time investment, testing and revision. 

  • Training buddies. To seed a P2P system, some experienced buddies need to learn the missions and how to teach them. 

  • Facilitating P2P sessions. After a quick intro on how learning labs work, we want students to pair up as quickly, efficiently, and productively as possible. The best pairing is asymmetric (less experienced dancer + more experienced dancer) and specific (focused on a certain, identified mission). It is important for buddies to have quick access to mission instructions. Analog methods can help (whiteboard matrix, mission checklists on index cards, catalog with mission instructions). Apps can provide may be a helpful way to organize the information and facilitate the session, and we are experimenting with pairing algorithms embedded in spreadsheets.   

  • Ensuring high-fidelity learning. Systems of skill verification help people have confidence that they're learning well and time is spent productively. We're developing moments that allow qualified people to confirm that the key lessons have been grasped.

3) Student feedback

What students are saying after Learning Labs:

"Like being kissed by three thousand butterflies. I never got bored. And it made me realize I know more about tango than I thought - learning it can be such a long slog, and teaching beginners reminds me of the progress I've made."

“It's a whirlwind, somewhat of a bootcamp. Come prepared to learn a lot and be comfortable to have your comfort zone be stretched.”

“Super: the format, the thrill and concentration in the space, everybody doing different things.”

“I actually found that to be one of the nicest aspects, the 'surprise' of seeing what next and with whom.”

“Realized I am more ready to teach the basics then I thought; beautiful connection”

“It felt good to pass on knowledge that helped me get through those tough 12 months+"

4) Next steps 

  • Increase awareness around the concept of peer-to-peer learning in tango

  • Catalyze dialogue among community organizers about how to remove obstacles to peer-to-peer learning

  • Continue to evolve and improve curriculums for peer-to-peer learning in dialogue with students, buddies and experts.

  • Develop time- and cost-efficient systems for training those who want to bring peer-to-peer learning to their community

  • Develop meaningful systems for verifying skill acquisition

  • Test and evolve low and higher-tech systems for facilitating and administering peer-to-peer learning