The Transformative Power Of Peerology

Two man debating in rocking chairs

In the world of conference education, the future is not necessarily about the next technology gadget or innovative session format.

It’s about something that is as old as disco balls, platform shoes and shag carpeting: peerology.

SME — Subject Matter Experts — has long been an important component of education session development. But it’s time “SME” stood for something else: Subject Matter Experienced. And that leads us to peerology.

Defining Peerology

Peerology — peers learning together — allows organizations to engage individuals at a level that can actually change people’s brains. That’s right, science now shows that this peer engagement causes our brains to rewire and grow. When peerology is used in the right situations, it has the ability to transform participants in an amazing way.

The concept of peerology — also known as paragogy or peeragogy — has been around since the 1970s, but it has taken on a new role in conferences as we have evolved from a passive to more participatory culture. Attendees are no longer satisfied with listening to a speaker drone on and on. They want to be active participants in their own learning as they construct their own mental maps of the topic at hand.

Peerology is simply about peers sharing with each other, discussing content, making sense of information and collaboratively working together. It means that there is less talk from the front of the conference room and more buzz as people communicate and collaborate together. Peerology is not when a speaker allows the audience to ask questions. That’s just standard Q & A and is still a passive experience for most of the audience — except for the person asking and the person answering the question. Peerology is when peers construct their own meanings and context of information presented together in pairs, triads, or small groups.

Three Things Peerology Leverages

Peerology leverages three things:

1. Personal experience and expertise.

This is critical because all conference attendees come to an education session with their own knowledge, findings, and experiences about a topic. Acknowledging that our attendees bring something to the table and allowing them to share it with others provides affirmation and motivation, which are necessary for learning to occur.

2. Our intrinsic drive to improve.

Mature adults have an instinctive urge to move forward as well as help others. In peerology, when each person plays the role of both learner and instructor, collaboration multiplies and learning is more likely to occur. Remember, learning is a social process at its basic level and requires some type of feedback. Peerology allows us to give and receive feedback, a critical factor needed to learn and change.

3. The context.

As adults, we are problem-centric. We are constantly looking for information and solutions to the daily challenges we face. Our mental engagement increases when we are able to apply what our colleagues say worked for them to our own problems.

Peerology is Transformative

A 2001 Harvard School of Education study found that:

  1. People learn most effectively when they interact with others (peerology) about a specific topic.
  2. People are more engaged in the topic and their own learning when they are involved in peerology.
  3. When involved in peerology, people are better prepared for work.
  4. Those that participated in peerology learned significantly more than those not involved in peerology or learning on their own.

How has your conference used peerology? What is holding you back from implementing peerology?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2013.

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  1. Adrian Segar says:

    Glad you’re talking this up Dave. I think it’s important for people who agree with this to know about the next step—how to effectively incorporate peerology into their conferences. I just returned from facilitating the 22nd annual edACCESS conference , which has successfully embraced a peer conference model since its inception in 1992.

    Slowly but surely participant-driven and participation-rich events are becoming more and more common, spurred by the dissatisfactions you mention. For example, I saw this posted today about better formats for academic conferences:

    I’m encouraged that my 2009 book on peer conferences is selling better than ever. But we have a long way to go. Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. […] solving is a skill that today’s employers value and need. The more your conference can leverage peerology, the more your attendees practice problem solving skills that they can apply in their […]

  3. […] solving is a skill that today’s employers value and need. The more your conference can leverage peerology, the more your attendees practice problem solving skills that they can apply in their […]

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