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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Helping each other to learn – a process evaluation of peer assisted learning

Liam G Glynn*, Anne MacFarlane, Maureen Kelly, Peter Cantillon and Andrew W Murphy

Author Affiliations

Department of General Practice, Clinical Science Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

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BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:18  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-6-18

Published: 8 March 2006

Abstract

Background

The benefits of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) are well established with positive effects on examination scores, student satisfaction and personal and professional development reported. PAL is increasingly utilised as a resource within medical education where the restrictions on resources have forced teachers to look at creating new educational environments which can be delivered at a lower cost. This study sought to evaluate the processes at work as the emphasis of PAL research to date has largely been on the consideration of student outcomes.

Methods

Fifth-year medical undergraduates, who had completed their communication skills modular training and attended a preparatory workshop, facilitated a role-play session for their second-year colleagues within an Early Patient Contact programme. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were used to collect data at different time points in order to establish the views of peer learners and tutors towards this new method of teaching. The data was analysed according to the principles framework analysis using N-vivo software. Themes were shared and debated with the multidisciplinary team of authors and a concordance of views on common themes was reached after discussion and debate.

Results

Analysis of the data resulted in the emergence of three thematic categories: Learning Environment, Educational Exchange and Communication and Modelling. The data demonstrated a concordance of the views between peer tutors and learners on barriers and levers of this approach as well as a heightened awareness of the learning environment and the educational exchange occurring therein.

Conclusion

The data is significant as it not only demonstrates a high level of acceptability among tutors and learners for PAL but also indicates the reciprocity of educational exchange that appears to occur within the PAL setting. This study highlights some of the unique characteristics of PAL and we recommend the development of further qualitative studies around peer learners and tutors views of this process.