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Collaborative learning

Peer-Assisted Learning

Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) is a scheme that fosters cross-year support between students on the same course. We were the first UK university to establish a PAL scheme, and have been running this initiative since 2001.

What is PAL?

PAL encourages students to support each other and to learn collaboratively under the guidance of trained students, called PAL Leaders, from the year above.

The scheme has five main aims and is intended to help students:

  • Adjust quickly to university life
  • Acquire a clear view of course direction and expectations
  • Develop their independent learning and study skills to meet the requirements of higher education
  • Enhance their understanding of the subject matter of their course through collaborative group discussion
  • Prepare better for assessed work and examinations.

How we developed PAL

When we established our initial three-year trial of the PAL scheme, we drew upon many of the principles and ideas associated with the North American Supplemental Instruction (SI) Model that was originally developed at the University of Missouri Kansas City in the 1970s to combat the problem of high drop-out rates in certain courses.

The scheme’s success was evident, and it has grown steadily over the years, providing all undergraduate students across every faculty with this kind of support.

We have developed a wide range of online resources on our virtual learning environment (myBU), providing our PAL leaders with everything they need. There is also further support through our libraries and dedicated Facebook communities.

In the 2013/14 academic year, we had 260 trained PAL leaders at BU, with the scheme continuing to grow.

Sharing our success

In 2005 we transferred project outcomes to the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Plymouth and Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, helping other higher education institutions develop their own PAL schemes.

Publications and evaluations

Capstick, S., Fleming, H., and Hurne, J. (2004 ) Implementing Peer Assisted Learning in Higher Education: The experience of a new university and a model for the achievement of a mainstream programme (PDF 98kb)

Capstick, S. and Fleming, H. (2004) The Learning Environment of Peer Assisted Learning (PDF 191kb)

Capstick, S. (2004) Benefits and Shortcomings of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) in Higher Education: an appraisal by students (PDF 272kb)

PAL evaluation report 2013-14 (PDF 1.36mb)

PAL evaluation report 2012-13 (PDF 2.99mb)