Peer Learning Circles

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The Problem

Learning is largely an individualistic and competitive endeavor. You may be friends with your classmates, but do you teach and learn from one another? Do you celebrate the academic success of your classmates, or dismayed that they are getting ahead of you?

Youth may face challenges in their learning:  Some are related to access to knowledge resources, eg Digital Access (having laptops, reliable Wi-Fi and relevant software) or Digital Literacy (knowing how to navigating online resources for learning purposes). Others may not enjoy learning, and see school as a necessary stepping stone to the work or life they want. They may lack motivation to learn and have not learned ‘how to learn’. Relationship with school teachers might sometimes be difficult and parents can even be an additional source of stress. At the same time, tuition in Singapore has become a billion-dollar industry, profiting from an educational ecosystem where teachers’ role in school is no longer regarded as enough to perform academically.

One Solution - Peer Learning Circles

Learning circles has the potential to ignite the interest of learners, unlock their learning capacity and transform the culture of learning among youths by moving them from individualistic competition to mutually supportive and collaborative learning.

  • Peer learning groups can be formed and supported by a ‘learning facilitator’ who does not provide tuition, but instead provides learning resources and guidance.
  • While academic subjects can constitute the content of these learning circles (Language, Math, Science), you can also form circles for topics that are not covered by the school curriculum.
  • Given that learning issues are often embedded in broader school or family circumstances, a supportive community circle can also offer practical or socio-emotional support where feasible. See also Community Support Circles

Learning circles will be structured to have check-ins so that youths can share what is going on in their lives. They will then engage in goal-setting where they define the curriculum they want to understand or homework they want to complete. Peer learning will be used as a first principle and escalating this to learning facilitators only when necessary. After each peer learning session, quick rounds of sharing by each youth and facilitator will help review what they felt worked well and what did not.


  • If peer learning works, it can disrupt the billion-dollar tuition industry that is profiting from parental and student anxieties, fueling a hyper individualistic and overly competitive learning climate.
  • Self-directed learning with peers will allow a more diverse set of learning interests to be cultivated beyond what is in the formal curriculum.
  • Beyond individual circles, it is possible to create a mutually supportive learning community that extends beyond their own study group.

Playbook - How to Start and Manage Learning Circles

[This is one possible model, each community organiser should co-design the initiative with their participants to suit their unqiue circumstances].

Formation of Study Groups

  • Sign up interested youths [insert more detailed guidelines on how]
  • Find or appoint a learning facilitator [insert more details]
  • Set up date for First Session
  • Decide on Monthly Topical Schedule
  • Decide on how the group will make decisions and communicate with one another [insert link to general guide]

Set Monthly Topical Schedule of Circles


  • Week 1 English / Language
  • Week 2 Math
  • Week 3 Science
  • Week 4 Reflection on Overall Learning Strategy / Group Identified Topic

Possible Time Allocation & Structure for Sessions

Overall Time Allocation

  • 25 min - check in / set learning goals
  • 1 hour - peer learning (break in between, then switch)
    • 30 mins - learn / support
    • 20 mins - tea break
    • 30 mins - support / learn (switch roles)
  • 15 mins - review & reflections

Structure of Sessions

  • Student set specific learning goals and pose specific questions on topic of that week they want to understand; also spell out what learning strategy they intend to use to understand these topics (Learners).
  • Determine who in the group might feel confident in helping with these study goals (Supporters) [Facilitator will attempt to pair supporters to learners, take note of goals, strategies etc on whiteboard, using template, see below].

[It may be possible to pair up (or have up to 3 in a group?) those who want to learn similar sub-topics, with those who feel they can help or support. If there is nobody who can help, learning facilitator supports student in reading textbook (and only help in reading and interpreting what text says); or pointing to how to find information online or other resources

  • Switch up the roles (Learner & Supporter to switch)
  • If there is time at the end, can help determine for individuals who did not achieve their learning goals, whether others can help, tap into group intelligence.
  • When group intelligence is exhausted, develop a plan for how to acquire this knowledge from outside the group. Send someone to ask their teacher/parent/older peer/search the internet and bring back the explanation. [Link them up with a more senior learning circle]
  • Once a month, reflect on learning strategies

First Session

  • Set expectations, ground rules, communication channels etc
  • Discuss what happens in between sessions. Do they want to meet up on their own to study or follow-up on what they couldn’t do within the session itself?
  • Use this first session to also identify the Week 4 topic, on something they want to learn collectively; make  a decision about that, so that they can embark on it over next 2-3 months.
  • Introduce the use of consent-seeking rounds to help make decisions. Anyone can propose. But all consent (instead of voting). [Insert link to instructions on how to make decisions using consent]

Regular Sessions

Check-in (10 mins)

You can ask about school or home:

  • How is school/teachers and are you enjoying your time there?
  • What is something interesting that you learned recently?
Goal Setting (15 mins)

You can also ask goal-oriented questions:

  • What is the one thing you will need help with this week?
  • What would you like to learn today?

Example of facilitator's template for 'Math Week'

Learner Topic

(State what you want to learn or don't understand)

Learning Strategy Supporter Follow-Up
Youth A Algebra

“I want to learn how to solve equations”

“I have trouble solving equations”

I will go and read the textbook

[What should facilitator do, can solicit ideas from group]

Youth D

[Facilitator ask someone to support]

[eg when learner read text book, supporter google for Khan Academy tutorials etc to see if useful]

[Facilitator asks, did you achieve learning goals? What are stumbling blocks, follow-up strategy]
Youth B Geometry

“I’m confused by what sine, cosine and tangent is”

Youth E
Youth C Statistics

“I don’t really understand the difference between mean, median and mode”

Youth F
Youth D Youth A
Youth E Youth B
Youth F Youth C
Learner/Supporter Sessions (30 mins and switch)

Switch up after 30 mins. Facilitator rotates and observes; can share reflections at the end.

  • IF supporter know, can offer to tutor
  • IF supporter don’t know, can offer to find resources [eg when learner read text book, supporter google for youtube tutorials]
Review (10 mins)
  • Review whether learning goals achieved, and if not, what follow-up
  • Document interesting strategies to collective pool of knowledge
Reflections and Closing (5 mins)
  • Each student to reflect on what worked or not; what was fun, what was frustrating
  • Ideas for what they would like to try next time
  • [possibly one youth can help to take notes]

Guiding Principles for Facilitator

  • Your role is not to tutor them
  • Your objective is to help the youth cultivate an interest in learning and develop useful strategies for learning.
  • Importantly, it is also to help the learning circle see that their fates are tied to one another’s success, that instead of individual competition, collaborative learning can be more fulfilling.
  • Consider an exit to community strategy in the long run where youths can run their own learning circles.