Designing a Peer-to-Peer learning program: a Marley Spoon case study

I think I first learned about peer-to-peer learning programs as a concept by reading Google’s case study on re:Work, just like my guest in this article: Venla Hakunti, L&D Manager and Agile HR Coach at Marley Spoon. While researching other examples, I came to learn more about social learning which is basically the theory behind this practice. Its benefits are numerous for the learning process of adult learners, building a culture of knowledge sharing in organizations, and for L&D teams.

The theory is definitely complex and multifaceted, and peer-to-peer learning programs are just one way of applying it. In the past, we’ve also explored Community of Practice, another way of putting social learning to work. This time, we thought about giving another example, just as exciting, and probably less time-consuming for L&D people.

Here’s the story of how Venla built and how she manages the peer-to-peer learning program of Marley Spoon.

Tell me a bit about how was this program born.

In March 2020 I started to do research on organizational learning and development topics for our L&D strategy paper I was asked to put together. Two things inspired me to try out the peer-learning programs in our organization.

First, I found Google’s ReWork material as part of the research and they shared there their approach to peer learning. Second, I spoke with an acquaintance from Blacklane who shared their success stories about their peer-learning program. So I decided to try it out.

I reached out to some colleagues I knew would make great trainers (they seemed confident with public speaking and facilitation) and asked them if they wanted to run a training on a specific topic. I ran Train the Trainer session with them and off we went with the first training! The first trainings we offered were about intercultural communication, Excel (basic and advanced), and best practices for hiring.

Now that you’ve experimented and the program is not an MVP anymore, what would you say it’s the purpose of peer-to-peer learning in your organization?

The purpose of our peer-learning program is to bring our employees together for a social learning experience, to learn from each other, and to share their knowledge with others.

Awesome! Does it bring any benefits to your culture as well?

The first would be the social aspect. It is a great way to bring people together from different departments and foster cross-functional connections, make learning more “social” and less passive.

The second one would be the L&D aspect. It encourages learning by doing for the trainers, which is great as we already know one of the best ways to learn is to teach others. It makes it easier for team members to join the trainings as they do not need to try to find relevant trainings first but can just simply sign up for a short live training. It makes L&D part of the everyday work and not just something special you do once a year by joining a conference.

You mentioned earlier some of the topics you covered first. How did the curriculum expand so far? What topics are you covering now?

“It’s a great opportunity as a junior to be introduced to topics such as conflict management and stress management for example, as this usually comes with work experience.”

Everything! We have no restrictions or limitations on what kind of topics can be taught. We offer lots of the trainings regularly, like every 1-2 months, as they are so popular. At the moment our most popular trainings are Getting things done, Strengths training, Conflict Management, Negotiations, Project Management but we also offer trainings related to food such as Wine Tasting, Sourdough Bread and Introduction to plant-based diets. We also offer sports classes as part of our peer-learning program, HIIT and yoga so far. Additionally, our leadership academy is at the moment also very peer-driven so roughly 50% of the content is taught by team leads, the remaining 50% by myself.

“I love the broad variety, always interesting and valuable trainings so far”.

Wow! So many different subjects. Who has the skills to teach them all? Who joined your program as trainers?

We have a very mixed group of trainers from all different levels, from Heads of departments to Customer Care agents.

Ok. But these people don’t do this full time. Are you preparing them in any way to take on this role?

Our Train the Trainer session focuses on differentiating presentation skills from facilitation skills and making sure that the trainers know how to build engaging and interactive trainings (instead of 2hr long passive presentations). The recommendation is to have roughly 1/3 of the training theory/ presentation, 1/3 discussions (group or small group), and 1/3 exercises. The idea is that the training is a social interactive session.

We are also collecting feedback from all the trainings so the trainers know what they can improve and what the participants thought about the training. We all use the same feedback form so we have all data in one place.

And how do they get to be trainers? What’s the registration process?

It’s fairly simple. Team members interested in becoming trainers contact me, I have a short call with them, and afterward, they participate in a longer Train the Trainer session with me.

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I guess this takes a bit of their time. Are you rewarding them in any way?

At the moment we invite them for a nice dinner twice a year.

Awesome. Enough about the ones on the delivering end of the spectrum. How about learners? How do they get to learn about the trainings available?

So far we’re promoting them mostly in Slack. We have a channel dedicated to L&D topics and that is where we also promote all new trainings. We create nice posters with Canva and ask the trainers themselves to share the poster with some introduction in the channel.

This sounds a lot like an iterative process, one you continuously improve. Which was the most challenging part of putting together and running the program?

The never-ending struggle is the workload and lack of time for people to run trainings and to participate in trainings! But making certain trainings recurring (either if only once a quarter) takes away some struggles with the planning and we also try to announce the trainings 3 weeks in advance so people can schedule them in their calendars. Many trainers really enjoy running learning sessions so they find ways to fit them into their schedules. It also helps of course that the C-level is involved and communicates the importance of the program and sharing learnings with each other.

Now that your process is fairly stable. Do you have any other plans for the future?

We want to roll this out globally! We are currently running our peer-learning program mostly in Europe (the sessions are of course open to our team members from AU and the US but it is hard for them to join due to time differences). So far we have 10-15 trainings per month and we would love to increase that number so that we offer 10-15 trainings per month per region!

We are also looking into tools that would support us with the admin side of the training management (calendar invites, signing up, etc). At the moment everything is managed on Google Sheets.

Fingers crossed with your plans! One last thought. What would you recommend to other L&Ds looking to enhance social learning through peer-to-peer learning programs in their organizations?

Start by finding you peer-learning ambassadors, people who are passionate about a certain topic and about teaching others. With their help, you can get started! Make sure your train the trainer program covers the importance of making the trainings interactive and social, otherwise you will just create passive presentations which is not the purpose of a peer-learning program.

Finally, here’s a testimonial about how this program feels in the organization:

Our Peer Learning Program benefits so many parts of my daily life at Marley Spoon – I’m not only able to meet many people across the company and talk about topics I enjoy and know well, but I also get to skill up in areas by learning from fellow trainers or “training to be a trainer” in new, interesting areas. I personally find one of the best parts to be the discussions and problem solving on training topics outside of my normal daily tasks, so I can learn more about other teams’ work and help solve puzzles together, which also allows me to refresh and refocus for my normal day-to-day. Dee Hibbard, Global Head of Paid Social and Display

Lavinia Mehedintu has been designing learning experiences and career development programs for the past 9 years both in the corporate world and in higher education. As a Co-Founder and Learning Architect @Offbeat she’s applying adult learning principles so that learning & people professionals can connect, collaborate, and grow. She’s passionate about social learning, behavior change, and technology and constantly puts in the work to bring these three together to drive innovation in the learning & development space.

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