Peer learning activities can involve peer to peer support (students of the same level) or peer mentoring, where students from higher level of study support ‘newer’ student mentees. Benefits can range from academic improvements, helping students develop personal confidence and promote broader social communities.
The use peer mentoring schemes can positively influence a student’s level of social and academic integration into university life (Carragher and McGaughey, 2016) and generally helps new students ‘fit in’ to university life (Topping, 1996).
It promotes independent living, gives students a better transition experience and enables them to become more engaged and committed to the university (Andrews, 2011).
Peer mentoring programmes have been successful in improving academic achievement of low achieving, first-year students (Salinitri, 2005).
Peer mentoring provides benefits to both mentors through helping other students, reapplying concepts in their own lives and developing connections themselves (Colvin and Ashman, 2010).
Mentors gain a strong sense of responsibility and a sense of belonging in a group (Thalluri et al., 2014).
Mentors help mentees to get connected to campus, succeed with their class work and depending on the focus of support, can help with day to day challenges such as financial aid and residency (Colvin and Ashman, 2010).
Whilst peer mentoring provides lots of academic and personal support opportunities for mentees, it is also important to recognise the benefits to mentors themselves so mentor development should also be supported in any peer mentoring scheme. With appropriate support, mentors can develop excellent leadership qualities, achieve self-awareness, develop collegiality and improved mentoring and communication skills (Schmidt and Faber, 2016).
Benefits for mentees include improved self-confidence and wellbeing, short-term and long-term career planning, developing and optimising professional profile and strengthening and establishing networks locally and internationally (Schmidt and Faber, 2016).
Mentees are able to ask questions in a comfortable group environment and have things explained simply (Thalluri et al., 2014).
Mentees may find it easier to seek help from mentors than those in higher positions (Thalluri et al., 2014).
Adopting peer mentoring schemes provides a variety of institutional benefits. Providing peer mentoring support promotes a greater sense of community within a department and offers greater student-staff partnership working.
Institutions harness the enthusiasm of their students to support each other and offers great opportunities for personal and professional development, which can contribute to lower attrition rates.
Benefits for the institution also include a strengthened learning environment by establishing an effective support culture, expanding networks, enhancing departmental and institutional spirit and cohesiveness and promoting teamwork and cooperation (Schmidt and Faber, 2016).