Whether we work on a college campus or for a fraternity or sorority member organization, as higher education professionals we are often tasked with implementing educational experiences in the pursuit of helping our members and students be better – better friends, citizens, students, leaders, and future professionals. When we think of facilitator-led programming, one might assume that professionals need to serve in the role of facilitator. Or perhaps we should utilize alumni members, volunteers, or other colleagues to facilitate programming. While these are effective and useful facilitators, it’s also important to tap into the target learner audience and consider engaging them in peer-to-peer facilitation opportunities. Put simply, peer education is the process of engaging and learning from and with a peer group. Within higher education or other educational spaces, peer groups could be a student organization, a member class of a student group, student leaders, a residence hall community, an athletic team, or any other member or student population that you can identify.
Contrary to popular belief, a program facilitator does not need to be the content expert. Peer educators simply need to be familiar with the content, be prepared and properly trained, and be ready to guide their peers in a meaningful conversation about an important topic. Peer education provides opportunities for interaction, collaboration, and discussion among a peer group and is proven to be more effective than individual learning on its own (Forbes). When utilized effectively, peer education can lead to further skill development beyond understanding or retaining a concept. When partnered with a foundational learning experience, such as an online module or other training experience, peer education can further develop comprehension, provide opportunities for experiential and practical application, and even ask learners to analyze and/or evaluate their individual or group ability or effectiveness within a certain area.
Additional benefits of peer education include the following:
- Mutually beneficial – Peer education is both beneficial for the participants and the peer facilitator. Facilitator-led programming furthers knowledge and skill of those participating in the experience, but it also expands the facilitator’s knowledge of the content and provides them opportunities to practice their facilitation skills.
- Meaningful human connection – Peer education can be achieved through both in-person and virtual experiences. Regardless of how much technology is integrated into peer education, human connection is achieved and prioritized which is something that today’s learners crave.
- Comfortable Environment – Peer-led education provides a comfortable and relatable environment for participants to engage with others and the content. Some topics can be difficult to discuss and may require participants to be vulnerable enough to share personal experiences or opinions. Vulnerability is much more easily achieved when perspectives are shared with peers. Among peers, participants may feel more confident and less likely to feel judged or reprimanded for their thoughts.
Plaid recently spoke with Freddy Juarez, Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Florida State University (FSU), about the importance of and the recent work of implementing peer-to-peer education. One community-wide initiative in place is FSU’s New Member Institute, which is a weekend long retreat that involves small group experiences for new members that is led by older members of the community.
FSU is also currently utilizing peer-to-peer education within the Fraternity and Sorority Life community in the following ways:
- The Interfraternity Council (IFC) provides peer-led education through the New Member Academy, which is facilitated by Rush Leadership Council to guide 3,000 potential new members in developmental programming focused on empathy, self-discovery, and leadership
- The Panhellenic association utilizes peer-to-peer education in recruitment guide training, which provides knowledge and skills that guides use to support 5,000 women during the recruitment period
- The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) hosts a day-long retreat each semester to engage neophytes in small group discussions about the membership experience
- The Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) hosts peer-led discussions and events related to cultural education, such as addressing harmful stereotypes or cultural celebration events.
In regards to the reception of peer-to-peer educational initiatives at FSU, Freddy Juarez shares “The methods may vary council to council; however we know that Greek students at FSU retain more information and enjoy the experience to a greater degree if the method is given by one of their peers. All of that to be said that peer-to-peer education has been a strong foundation of the FSL community at Florida State University. Which then leads to there being future hopes of developing more peer education opportunities such as a peer wellness education coalition or an FSL Ambassador program.” Here is more from our conversation with Freddy:
Plaid: What are some of the outcomes you have experienced in the fraternity/sorority life community since implementing a peer-to-peer education model?
Freddy: Some outcomes we have experienced is that peer-to-peer education leads to the development of “pipelines” towards leadership positions. A storing example of this is the Panhellenic Association utilizing their new member peer education group (CORE) to lead a sorority woman to invest in her Panhellenic journey. Which then leads her to take on a chapter leadership position, for example Panhellenic Delegate. This delegate, then impassioned by previous peers, feels a need to “give back” so she becomes a Rho Gamma. Thus, just within the first two semesters of becoming a member this woman has held two different titles with three different peer education groups. Then in a year or two this woman could be the next Panhellenic Exec Member or even the Panhellenic President. The outcome that seems to be consistent is that peer education develops future peer educators.
Plaid: In what areas, topics, or programs are peer-to-peer education models providing engagement and producing effective learning experiences for students?
Freddy: The programs and topics that have yielded the most effective models for peer-to-peer education are in the new member experiences and spaces. It is our belief that this is due to the sense of loyalty and commitment our older members have. There is both the sense of giving forward so that the community lives in a progression and that there is a sense of imparting wisdom to the next generation of Greek leaders. That sense of care is shown through programs like CORE, New Member Academy, NPHC Orientation, and NeoCORE. All these experiences are a launching point for the next generation of leaders.
Plaid: How have the Tightrope companion guides assisted in the peer-to-peer education model you are implementing?
Freddy: We have trained one student from each chapter that is focused on harm prevention work to facilitate the Tightrope companion activities. The Tightrope companion guides were also great launching pads for other conversations and workshops. It was simple to give our students something tangible for them to facilitate. We have found a lot of success in this blended learning model. So far, we have trained one student from each chapter as a peer facilitator in Alcohol and Other Drugs, Mental Health Chairs, and our Belonging chairs. We are going to expand this program to train students on sexual violence prevention, healthy relationships, and healthy body image.
Plaid: What advice do you have for professionals exploring peer-to-peer education models and initiatives?
Freddy: My advice would be to start peer-to-peer education in small pockets of the community then grow it from there. Utilize those established groups of leaders to “test drive” an initiative that is needed in your community. That is how many of our programs came to be. Once our students became receptive to this notion of peer-to-peer it became our culture. Nowadays, we could switch any program to being peer facilitated/peer educated.
The Florida State University Fraternity & Sorority Life Community is an example that peer-to-peer education can manifest itself in many forms.
Topics – As showcased by FSU, peer-to-peer education can be implemented for a variety of topics such as recruitment mentorship, new member education, risk management, cultural awareness and/or competency, mental health, sexual violence healthy relationships, and many more. Take the time to complete a needs assessment for your community. Determine:
- What topics are students most interested in learning about?
- What topics might students feel more comfortable discussing among peers rather than a professional?
- What gap areas are you noticing as a professional that your community could benefit from?
Structures – Peer-to-peer education can also be offered in both formal and informal ways. FSU’s IFC and Panhellenic communities take a more formalized approach through the use of Rush Mentor’s and Rho Gamma’s that are trained by their council counterparts. Whereas the culturally-based organizations take a less formal approach to peer education to better fit the structure, purpose, and needs of their community members. Take the time to consider how the community structure, size, capacity, and topic areas may influence your decision to implement a formal or informal approach to peer education.
- Larger communities likely benefit from a more formal, structured approach to peer education, where small communities thrive in an informal environment.
- A single individual with no additional committees or counterparts to delegate responsibilities to, may find informal peer education more easily managed than a formalized structure with specific roles and responsibilities for a group of peer facilitators.
- The topics being discussed may also be more appropriate for formal or informal methods. For example, a peer led education regarding policies and established procedures may present more easily in a formal manner, whereas topics that are more flexible and allow for various opinions and experiences to be showcased may be more impactful in an informal setting.
Blended Learning – When implementing peer-to-peer education you’ll also want to consider if a blended learning approach is best. Plaid’s signature programs encourage a blended learning approach, where learners complete online modules asynchronously first as a means to introduce learners to a topic they may not be familiar with. The corresponding companion guides provide an opportunity for a peer to lead their peer group through a synchronous, in-person or virtual, discussion that further expands on the topics that were presented in the online modules. Companion guides provide a brief review of module content to ensure understanding of key terms or concepts, but then dives deeper into the topic to further understanding, develop and practice skills, and engage in personal or group analysis regarding how these topics show up or impact their lives.
From experience, Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life, Freddy Jaurez shared that “Greek students at FSU retain more information and enjoy the experience to a greater degree if the method is given by one of their peers.” If you are looking to implement or expand upon your peer-to-peer educational offering within your community like FSU. Or if you are more interested in a turnkey, ready to implement peer lead facilitation opportunity of Plaid’s signature programs like Tightrope, Cultural Competency Program, or AboveBoard via our corresponding companion guides, Plaid’s expert consultants are here to help you and your community Be Better. Contact a member of our team today to learn more.