By: Joseph Bozzo and Lauren Irwin, Michigan State University
Students who hold peer educator roles develop an array of skills and competencies while serving as leaders and
educators among their peers. Exploring competency development in peer educators can illuminate the development of these transferable skills. Each year, the National Peer Educator Study (NPES) research team surveys peer educators from more than 40 institutions to learn about their motivations, behaviors, and learning outcomes.
The NPES survey results reflect the development of peer educators in six domains, developed from Learning Reconsidered 2 and the CAS Learning and Developmental Outcomes: cognitive complexity; intrapersonal development; interpersonal development; practical competence; knowledge acquisition, construction, integration, and application; and humanitarianism and civic engagement. Advisors can utilize information about what peer educators are learning to support the development of transferable skills and help peer educators think about ways they can apply these new skills to other contexts. Analyzing peer educator learning outcomes is an important avenue for exploring student learning and competency development.
Across all six learning domains measured by the NPES, students reported significant development as a result of serving as peer educators. In terms of cognitive development, peer educators reported better problem solving and critical analyzing skills. Peer educators developed intrapersonal skills, reporting a better sense of their own values, strengths, and weaknesses. They also reported increased interpersonal competence, as they felt more comfortable working and communicating with others and facilitating group discussions. The development of better listening, public speaking, and time management skills demonstrated increased practical competence. The ability to refer students to additional resources, research information, and reevaluate previous assumptions demonstrated growth in knowledge acquisition, construction, integration, and application skills. Finally, in terms of humanitarianism and civic engagement, peer educators reported feeling a sense of responsibility to the campus community, considering the welfare of others in their decision making, and understanding the role of their own values in group behaviors.
While peer educator competency development is important within the context of student learning and peer education programs, the knowledge and competencies highlighted in each domain have applications beyond peer education. Since peer educators self-report growth in these areas, advisors are in the perfect place to create a transformative, transferable experience. In supporting the competency development of peer educators, advisors may find that helping students reflect on the combination of their curricular and co-curricular endeavors is a useful tool (Wawrzynski, LoConte, & Straker, 2011). The reflection process encourages students to recall the interactions that they have had with health behaviors in their own life and the lives of others. Reflection opportunities can include small group discussions, journals, case studies, and presentations, can exist outside of formal training, and can be structured to take little time on the part of the student.
Creating structured opportunities where learning outcomes are central to the student experience allows for the greatest degree of achievement. Adopting a competency-based peer education program means that students will know what outcomes to expect and professionals will know what outcomes to assess. Furthermore, the program may become attractive to students as a means of developing in areas of personal weakness or integrating curricular and co-curricular experiences. This concept has natural implications in recruiting peer educators and advertising what your program has to offer.
Although these learning experiences foster the development of transferable skills that can facilitate the accomplishment of future life goals, they also encourage outcomes beyond the individual student. By focusing on the outcomes of a peer education program, advisors can see positive changes in the motivation levels of applicants and the quality of work that peer educators do, which in turn can affect the campus community as a whole.
ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACADA, NASPA & NIRSA (2006). Learning reconsidered 2: Implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. 1-88. Retrieved from http://www.nirsa.org/docs/Discover/Publications/LearningReconsidered2.pdf
Council for the Advancement of Standards (2009). CAS learning and development outcomes. In Council for the Advancement of Higher Education (Ed.), CAS professional standards for higher education (7th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Wawrzynski, M. R., LoConte, C. L., & Straker, E. J. (2011). Learning outcomes for peer educators: The national survey on peer education. Emerging issues and practices in peer education: New directions for student services No. 133 (pp. 17–27). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.