Using Peer-to-Peer Feedback to Enhance Learning

Fellow Learners Make Great Teachers

1. Learners must be equipped to give one another meaningful feedback 

We each engage any learning opportunity with varying backgrounds, experiences, values, beliefs, and other types of prior knowledge that influence our ability to both give valuable feedback to one another and to make use of more expert levels of feedback. As an educator, distributing this prior knowledge among learner groups benefits all learners:

  • Learners with greater expertise benefit from teaching others and explaining their understandings (Chiu & Chi, 2014).
  • Learners with less expertise may understand initial feedback better when phrased by a better-informed novice, and may then be better prepared to understand educator (expert) feedback (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1987).
  • Prior work has shown that discussion enhances understanding even when no one in a group originally knows the answer (Smith et al., 2009).

Planning Questions: What specific prior knowledge (background, experience, belief, etc.) is most relevant to the task for which you want learners to give peer feedback? How will you distribute this expertise across feedback groups?


2. Learners must be equipped to give one another goal-directed feedback

Even when educators carefully articulate detailed instructions for an assignment, learners sometimes fail to internalize that guidance and fall back on established routines (Carey et al., 1989). This novice pitfall can be magnified when learners are asked to give feedback to one another without fully understanding the goal of the task, resulting in unhelpful feedback.

  • Providing a tool such as a checklist, rubric, or worksheet can help to guide and focus the learner feedback process.
  • Training, in the form of educator modeling of how to use that tool and subsequent learner practice, significantly enhances learners’ ability to benefit from the feedback process.

Planning Questions: Brainstorm a checklist of specific ”do’s and don’t’s” for the task at hand, framing each item in terms a novice might understand. How will you teach learners to use the list?


3. Giving feedback to others helps learners monitor and adjust their own future approach to a task, making them more self-directed learners

Self-directed learners are able to accurately assess the demands of a given task, evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses relative to the task, plan an approach that they then apply and monitor, and reflect upon their performance and try a different approach if needed (Ambrose et al., 2010). This process makes self-directed learners more efficient and successful learners, but often requires explicit instruction.

  • Intentional, structured opportunities for reflection in the classroom, such as minute papers, ”wrapper” activities, and journaling encourage learners learn to monitor and adjust their approach.
  • A reflection activities immediately after learners use a checklist or other tool to give feedback can be well-timed to help learners notice their own strengths and weaknesses relative to the goal or to their peers.

Planning Questions: What prompt might you use to help learners reflect on their performance on the task and learning during the peer feedback process?



Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Carey, L. J., Flower, L., Hayes, J., Shriver, K. A., & Haas, C. (1989). Differences in writers’ initial task representations (Technical Report No. 34). Center for the Study of Writing at University of California at Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University.

Cartney, P. (2010). Exploring the use of peer assessment as a vehicle for closing the gap between feedback given and feedback used. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 551-564.

Chiu, J.L. & Chi, M.T.H. (2014). Supporting self-explanation in the classroom. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. New London Group.

Hacker, D. J., Bol, L., Horgan, D. D., & Rakow, E. A. (2000). Test prediction and performance in a classroom context. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 160.

Mulder, R. A., Pearce, J. M., & Baik, C. (2014). Peer review in higher education: Student perceptions before and after participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15(2), 151-171.

Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323(5910), 122-124.

van Zundert, M., Sluijsmans, D., & van Merrienboer, J. (2010). Effective peer assessment processes: Research findings and future directions. Learning and Instruction, 20(4), 270-279.

Vygotsky, L. (1987). Zone of proximal development. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes, 5291.