skip to content

Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning

Three students studying together on a picnic bench

Research into peer learning in higher education demonstrates its many benefits, from collaborative knowledge construction when it occurs in formal learning settings, to helping students build a sense of community when it takes place outside of the classroom1. In educational settings, most students will naturally engage with each other to make sense of their studies, their concerns and their experiences. Whether these are informal, socially-focused exchanges or formal, facilitated interactions, they can foster active learning and enhanced student engagement.

A recent meeting of the Student Skills Working Group2 explored the topic of peer learning at Cambridge. We invited two guests, Dr Gavin Stevenson, Director of Student Development at Murray Edwards College, and Mr Alberto Garcia Jr, Academic Skills Librarian at Wolfson College, to discuss how they facilitate peer learning in the academic development programmes they oversee. At Murray Edwards, Gavin brings together second- and third-year undergraduates with first-year students studying the same subjects, while at Wolfson, Alberto has created a writing centre that trains doctoral students to act as writing consultants for undergraduates and Master's students.

Their work prompted a lively discussion in the Working Group and raised several questions: should Colleges and Departments directly facilitate peer interactions in a structured way, or is it better to allow such exchanges to occur organically amongst students? What are the most effective ways to foster peer learning? Why do some Triposes seem to have an embedded culture of collaboration amongst students while others do not? Do students sometimes need a nudge or to be given 'permission' to work together?

Although it was clear that peer learning can take many forms, consensus did emerge around the real benefits of facilitating spaces for students to chat about and critically reflect on learning3. Too often, as Gavin pointed out, it is taken for granted that learning is an obvious process.

To share these initiatives and open up this conversation more broadly, we interviewed Gavin and Alberto about their programmes and their students' experiences of peer learning, and talked to a History of Art student about an initiative that ran in their department during lockdown:

We would love to hear from you about any other examples of facilitating peer learning, whether a highly structured programme or an initiative to encourage student-led interactions. Please get in touch with Dr Mary Beth Benbenek.


1 Boud, D., Cohen, R. & Sampson, J. (2013) Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other (2nd ed.) Routledge.

2 The Student Skills Working Group was constituted to take forward the Student Skills Strategy, which was approved by the General Board's Education Committee and the Senior Tutors' Committee in November 2020.

3 We know that many Cambridge students consider peer learning and mentoring important to both academic success and mental health, as demonstrated through research conducted by students as part of CCTL's APP Participatory Action Research Project.