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Peer Support Community: Literature Review

The purpose of this guide is to provide readers with practical advice on how to implement their own peer learning scheme for curricular or co-curricular benefits. It is also helpful to have a bit of background information on some of the extensive research into peer learning as a reference point.

There are decades of research into various facets of peer learning such as how to create such schemes, how to promote social presence, how to support learning, and positive benefits. A quick introductory overview of some of the literature has been created to provide the reader with some additional background information on peer learning research.

Download the review here:


Peer Support

Peer Support in its broad context can be defined as a process through which individuals who share common experiences or face similar challenges come together as equals to give and receive help based on the knowledge that comes through shared experience (Riessman, 1989). Many universities have peer support programmes in place for students, including peer mentoring and peer learning.

Index of schemes covered:

  1. Peer Mentoring
  2. Peer Learning
  3. Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS)
  4. Buddy schemes
  5. Capstone Project
  6. Supplemental Instruction

Peer Mentoring

A peer mentor is a person who provides guidance, support, and practical advice to a mentee who is close in age and shares common characteristics or experiences (Beltman and Schaeben, 2012; Kram, 1983). Stanton-Salazar and Spina (2003) define mentors as individuals who challenge their mentees to strive for certain goals, help them develop the necessary skills, aid them in coping with challenges, provide moral support, and share key resources and opportunities. Mentors typically impart their experience, knowledge, attitude, skills, and wisdom onto their mentee (George and Mampilly, 2012). Peer mentoring in a university setting is where a more experienced student helps a less experienced student improve overall academic performance by providing advice, support, and knowledge (Colvin and Ashman, 2010). According to Bellodi (2011), the mentor is able to relate to the mentee as they have been through the same university experience and understand the ups and downs of student life. Morales et al., (2015) state peer mentoring aims to facilitate students’ academic and social integration into the setting. Peer mentoring programmes are designed to foster positive outcomes (Terrion and Leonard, 2007). A more ‘pastoral’ approach is taken by schemes referred to as peer mentoring; student ambassadors; and student buddy projects (Hampton and Potter 2009).


Over the past decade, much research and studies have suggested peer mentoring has many benefits for mentees, mentors, staff and institutions. A study conducted in the UK by Collings et al., (2014) indicated peer support schemes offer higher levels of integration and connection to university and lower levels of intention to leave university. They found students benefit from peer mentoring by receiving social support, skill development, access to information, and a sense of belonging (Collings et al., 2014). These findings are supported by Carragher and Mcgaughey (2016) who state mentoring experiences positively influence the student’s level of social and academic integration into university life. Topping (1996) believes an advantage of peer mentoring is that it helps new students ‘fit in’ to university life, although in some cases this could be seen as a disadvantage as some students may try too hard to ‘fit in’ rather than focus on being themselves. These findings suggest students who are mentored from the beginning of their first year at university are more likely to become more socially and academically integrated into university life than non-mentored students. Therefore, it may be that making as many new students as possible aware of the peer mentoring schemes available to them from an early stage would be beneficial.

A study conducted by Colvin and Ashman (2010) investigated a peer mentoring programme at a university in the western US. They found peer mentoring had positive effects on both the mentor and the mentee. Mentors reported three benefits to their role as being able to support students, reapplying concepts in their own lives, and developing connections themselves. Mentees reported having mentors connected them to campus and helped them succeed with their class work. One student reported their mentor helped them to figure out financial aid and residency. Over half of the students stated individual attention as a main benefit of the programme and having a friend or someone to help them one on one. When responses were examined along gender lines, women focused on the benefits of having a friend and a support system. Men, on the other hand, indicated that the biggest benefit was that they learned more because they had help from an equal or peer. Baranik et al., (2010) suggested that one important reason that ‘mentoring works’ is the perception of organisational support. This indicates many new students starting university want to feel valued and supported by the university in their social life and studies. Therefore, it could be suggested mentors are given plenty of training on how to offer a listening ear to mentees and provide useful advice that will help mentees socially and academically in order to ensure everyone is getting the most out of the programme.

Furthermore, Schmidt and Faber (2016) found in their study that peer mentoring in higher education (HE) has multiple benefits for mentees, mentors and the institution. For mentees, this included; 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. Benefits for mentors were; improved leadership qualities, achieved self-awareness, developed collegiality and improved mentoring and communication skills and tools. Benefits for the institution included a strengthened learning environment by establishing an effective support culture, expanding networks, enhancing departmental and institutional spirit and cohesiveness and promoting teamwork and cooperation. According to Andrews and Clark (2011), peer mentoring promotes independent living, gives students a better transition experience and enables them to become more engaged and committed to the university. In addition, Salinitri (2005) found that peer-mentoring programmes have been successful in improving academic achievement of low achieving, first-year students.

Moreover, a case by Cornelius et al., (2016) found giving student mentees discretion in selecting mentors using an online matching process was viewed favourably by mentees. In addition, the provision of face-to-face and online training materials and training sessions helped participants become familiar with the programme and better understand the requirements. Results showed that face-to-face orientation and training materials was essential. Third, the results showed that regular and frequent meetings between mentors and mentees and programme commitment from mentors and mentees were critical. Meeting three times during a 12-week session, the number of meetings held during this programme, facilitated the development of positive mentoring relationships. The results indicated in order for a mentoring programme to work effectively, it is important to establish a scheme which requires commitment from mentors to attend all the training sessions and meet regularly with their mentees and keep in touch over phone or email. Furthermore, it may be using a combination of face-to-face and online training materials would be helpful for most mentors and it is possible providing mentees with the option to select their mentor would be useful, however it may be more research is needed to prove this.


Although peer mentoring has many benefits, it is also important to consider its potential limitations. Tabbron et al., (1997) states expectations and objectives may not always be clearly understood by the mentee and mentor, thus creating confusion. Maynard (2000) considers it is possible some mentees could want more academic support from the scheme than is available and of feeling that their trust in the mentor to deliver has been breached. Furthermore, Earnshaw (1995) believes mentoring can cause stress for mentors, although Treston (1999) points out that final year mentors actually have a need for ‘unstructured extracurricular activity as a break from their studies’. Moreover, Jucovy (2000) found frequent problems with mentoring include conflicting messages from staff, lack of consistency in meeting mentees, absenteeism of the student, and frustration of mentor by lack of impact on mentee. In a study conducted by Colvin and Ashman (2010), mentors stated they believed a potential barrier to mentoring is balancing both the specific requirements and personal desire to do well as mentors with time and other commitments. This suggests confusion on what the scheme offers and miscommunications between staff and students are common factors that affect the success of the mentoring schemes. In order to minimise the chances of this happening, it may be having an accessible online resource that clearly states everything the scheme entails would be helpful. In addition, providing brochures at the beginning of the year for students and staff to take home could clarify the expectations and objectives of the scheme before they become involved.


The implementation of a peer mentoring programme varies in different HE institutions. A peer mentoring programme implemented by Yusta-Loyo et al., (2015) at the University of Zaragoza involved faculty heads selecting student mentors under the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of Students and Employment guidance. Student mentors must have passed at least 50% of degree credits and must exhibit strong social skills and self-motivation. Faculties also assigned students to mentoring groups depending on the availability of student mentors in each programme. In most cases, assignments were made automatically for all incoming first year students. The university has an online peer mentoring programme activity registration system which is available through the ICE website which lists mentorship meetings between mentors and mentees, an annual calendar of activities for programme participants, a student mentor guide provided at the start of the school year and an online database where mentors must report on mentoring activities under a personal username and password. Mentors must attend initial presentation and training meetings of the peer mentoring programme organised by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor at the start of the academic year. Mentors must meet with their mentees at least twice each semester and provide a brief summary of engagements with their mentees via standardised online records. The programme was positively assessed through a satisfaction survey of student mentors, both from a personal standpoint and as an institutional initiative. Mentors reported that they would recommend programme participation to their peers.

In Colvin and Ashman's (2010) study, the peer mentoring scheme was created in 1990 as a mentor leadership programme under the premise of students helping students. It primarily recruited students from the first year experience class specifically to become mentors for that same class. Interested students take a mentoring leadership class where they learn the theory of peer mentoring, including understanding the roles of a mentor, developing cultural sensitivity, enhancing communication skills, developing and maintaining relationships, managing time, and facilitating learning. A study by Wingrove et al., (2017) reported on a peer mentoring model that was established within a Built Environment School in 2015. All mentors were required to complete five hours of mentor training which included a focus on attributes of the mentor, the boundaries between the role of the mentor versus teacher, skills and strategies to facilitate learning through working with peers, intercultural communication, relationship building and understanding different learning styles. In addition to their training, mentors were required to contribute a minimum of fifteen hours mentoring for each semester.

Click below to read more on peer support schemes at:

Peer Learning

Boud, et al., (2001) defined peer learning as a student-centred teaching and learning method that facilitates the exchange of knowledge among learners. According to Boud et al., (2001) peer learning suggests a two-way, reciprocal learning activity. It can be described as a way of moving beyond independent to interdependent or mutual learning (Boud, 1988). In peer learning, students learn with and from each other, normally within the same class or cohort (Topping and Ehly, 2001). Boud et al., (2001) stated peer learning should be mutually beneficial and involve the sharing of knowledge, ideas and experience between the participants. The emphasis is on the learning process, including the emotional support that learners offer each other as much as the learning task itself (Boud et al., 2001). According to Idris et al., (2019), peer learning can be categorised into three types: The first is peer tutoring where a student is appointed as coach or mentor and share their knowledge with other students by way of formal tutorials. The second is cooperative learning, where students work together in small groups on a structured activity and are individually accountable for their work, yet also evaluated as a group; cooperative groups work face-to-face and are usually managed by a leader. The third is collaborative learning, where students team up in a less structured way to explore a problem statement, bringing complementary skills to the team and offering alternative solutions.


A large number of studies, research and theories suggest peer learning has numerous benefits for students in HE settings. Vygotsky (1962) valued peer learning and argued that the range of skills that can be developed with peer collaboration is greater than anything that can be attained alone. Piaget (1971) believed that co-operation between peers is likely to encourage real exchange of thought and discussion. Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory suggests that students’ behavioural and cognitive learning processes become integrated in an environment which encourages social interactions and self-directed learning. According to Topping (1998), interaction with peers can result in the development of cognitive or intellectual skills or to an increase in knowledge and understanding. In peer learning, students develop skills in organising and planning learning activities, working collaboratively with others, giving and receiving feedback and evaluating their own learning which can be useful for future work (Boud et al., 2001). Peers do not have power over each other by virtue of their position or responsibilities (Boud et al., 2001). Therefore, communication is based on mutual experience, enabling peers to make equal contributions (Boud, 2001). Furthermore, Thalluri et al., (2014) suggested peer learning may be more successful when peers are close in experience or stage of training as it provides a more relaxed, less intimidating, and more ‘user friendly’ learning experience. This suggests it is possible when students collaborate and share their knowledge with each other they learn more than what they would if they worked independently. In order to achieve this, it may be incorporating peer learning into lectures as much as possible would help students to interact with each other in lectures which could make it easier for them to interact outside of lectures. This could be through group work activities, presentations and discussions throughout lectures where each student contributes and has their own role.

Boud et al., (2014) explored the advantages of peer learning and concluded; it can prompt a sense of responsibility for one's own and others' learning and development and increase confidence and self-esteem through engaging in a community of learning and learners. Concept development often occurs through the testing of ideas on others and the rehearsing of positions that enable learners to express their understanding of ideas and concepts (Boud et al., 2014). Topping and Ehly (1998) also listed benefits peer learning offers students such as: higher academic achievement, improved interpersonal relationships, enhanced personal and social development, more positive learning environment and increased motivation levels. This indicates peer learning enables students to become more independent and manage their learning which increases their confidence and helps them prepare for future work. Therefore, it may be setting tasks where students do some initial research together before teaching them the answers could promote responsibility and independence. Additionally, setting activities where student’s brainstorm their ideas and problem solve together may be equally as effective.

In a meta-analysis of 148 studies representing over 17,000 early adolescents, peer learning was associated with greater achievement and more positive peer relationships as compared to competitive or individualistic instructional approaches (Roseth et al., 2008). According to Yan and FitzPatrick (2016), peer learning enables cultural knowledge and cultural awareness to be developed through conversations between peers. Moreover, Watkins and Mazur (2013) state peer learning can lead to a decrease in drop-out rates. A case study by Capstick (2004) gathered data to find out students’ perspectives of peer learning. Their responses indicated areas students considered to be of benefit: generally 'helpful', settling into university, understanding the course, awareness of course directions and expectations, assignment help, study skills and cooperative learning (Capstick, 2004). Furthermore, Hassan (2014) discovered most students (95 per cent) viewed peer learning very positively and enjoyed socialising with their peers. The findings suggest the majority of students benefit from peer learning in at least one way, therefore encouraging as many students as possible to work together is likely to result in positive outcomes. It may be allowing students to group together themselves in some lectures and having the tutor select the groups for them in other lectures would enable all the students to get to know each other, developing their cultural knowledge and understanding of the course.


Considering the barriers of peer learning, according to Boud et al., (2001) the single most potent problem arising in peer learning is associated with issues of difference. If students do not accept each other as peers, difficulties arise. Oppressive behaviour by dominant group members can and does occur (Boud et al., 2001). A study by Capstick (2004) found peer assisted learning does not work for everyone. One student stated peer assisted learning fails when put into practice and the time could be more usefully spent on assignments. Another student stated they prefer to work individually rather than with peers. Groups can become dependent on one member who they look at as being the teacher (Capstick, 2004). Idris et al., (2019) stated there could be conflicts among team members and team members’ level of commitment can be a challenge. Boud et al., (2001) believed the kinds of differences that appear to influence how groups perform together include those of gender, local versus overseas students, culture and religion as well as differences in knowledge and experience bases. This suggests although peer learning works successfully for many students, it may not be the same for everyone and some will prefer to work independently. Therefore, making students aware of the advantages of peer learning early in the academic year may help them to understand how it will benefit them and why it is encouraged.


Boud et al., (2001) suggested that time is formally allocated to preparing students to engage in peer learning through orientation, rehearsal and discussion of the processes. They identified main phases in the process of establishing and maintaining peer learning.

Click here to read about the main phases

The Young Foundation (2017) presented several suggestions on how to use peer-to-peer learning methods in formal educational contexts: get inspiration and identify specific ideas for how peer-to-peer learning methods can help to solve existing challenges in the courses. Communicate with the teaching team and plan the implementation together. Identify a regular course or activity where it is possible and meaningful to test the new methods. Create a specific and detailed lesson plan that incorporates the chosen peer-to-peer methods into the course. Reflect on the progress with learners and teachers. Use evaluation findings to identify key learnings and next steps in the process of introducing peer-to-peer learning methods in the organisation. 

Moreover, Tai et al., (2016) proposed tutors can promote and encourage peer learning under their supervision. This can be done by grouping students together and giving them different roles to work towards problem solving. This can lead students to work together outside of class as they become more familiar with each other (Tai et al., 2016). Tenn TLC (n.d.) suggested assigning group roles, particularly for informal, in-class group work to increase student accountability. Roles include: leader, note-taker, reporter, and questioner. Other roles can include: elaborator, opinion seeker, and orienteer.

Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS)

PASS is a peer-learning initiative modelled on the supplemental instruction (SI) programme. Supplemental instruction, first developed at the University of Missouri Kansas City in 1973, has been established as a successful academic support programme (Supple et al., 2016). PASS is a voluntary student-led preventative intervention for difficult and demanding tertiary courses (Dawson et al., 2014). Weekly PASS sessions consist of small groups of undergraduates led by one or two senior students, who receive training in PASS administration and non-directive leadership practices (Dawson et al., 2014). PASS differs from previous support programs: rather than simply teaching content, student-leaders empower attendees through facilitated group discussions and activities regarding course-specific learning objectives and general academic skills (Dawson et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2012).

Click here to read about PASS at the University of Hull


Paloyo et al., (2016) outline key benefits PASS has for first year students. They state PASS allows students to develop their academic skills while fostering a sense of community, helps them adjust quickly to university life and make new friends, improves their study habits and enhances their understanding of the subject matter of their course through collaborative learning. Based on the social-constructivist approach, PASS supports the collective sharing of knowledge through facilitated group discussion, thus promoting active engagement with the learning process rather than passive knowledge absorption (Miller et al., 2012; Ning & Downing, 2014). According to Arendale (2014), this model of peer learning encourages communication, cooperation, independence, and responsibility as both student and leader engage with the course content and employ appropriate and useful study strategies. Hurley et al., (2006) pointed out in PASS the more equal power distribution inherent in relationships with near peers creates a learning environment that is generally more relaxed than “formal” learning settings, such as lectures and tutorials. Such a nonthreatening environment encourages learner voices to be heard (Hurley et al., 2006). Attendees benefit from exposure to deep learning strategies (Ribera et al., 2012), critical thinking (Martin and Arendale, 1992), cultural diversity (Ribera et al., 2012), and a deeper professional affiliation (Miller et al., 2012). Furthermore, Couchman (2008) considered while lecturers have expert knowledge of their particular subject, in the PASS context it is the students who are the experts, they bring their knowledge and experience of studying the subject and being a successful student to share with attendees.

Click here to watch a video of previous PASS attendee’s experience at the University of Hull


According to Blunt (2008), some students can misunderstand the purpose of PASS and perceive it to be a remedial intervention and thus avoid sessions. Similarly, Chilvers (2013) considered there may be a misunderstanding of the leaders’ role if not explained clearly from the beginning. Chilvers (2013) also stated availability and booking of rooms for students to use could be challenging. Ensuring the roles and responsibilities of the leaders and the purpose of PASS are communicated effectively to students in the introductory sessions and allowing them to ask any questions they have would help clarify misunderstandings (Capstick, 2004).


Click below to read about the implementation of PASS at:

Buddy schemes

A definition of a 'buddy scheme' is: ‘an arrangement in which individuals are paired, as for mutual safety or assistance.’ (American Heritage Dictionary, 2011). According to Campbell (2015), the main role of the buddy is to be a helpful listening ear and to direct and support the new students to an appropriate source of advice.

Many universities across the UK have buddy schemes in place which operate in different ways. Click below to read more on buddy schemes at:

  • King’s College London
  • The University of Chichester
  • The University of York
  • The University of Nottingham
  • The University of Birmingham

A study by Thalluri et al., (2014) aimed to determine whether participation in a peer support scheme improved pass rates of 'at risk' students and examined the advantages of the model. 'At risk' students were identified from their poor performance in online formative and summative assessments conducted in the first two weeks of their study period. Due to the implementation of a new assessment piece (Pearson Education, 2014) all ‘at risk’ students (buddies) and academically gifted students (buddy leaders) were identified early in the study period. Both ‘at risk’ students and students who gained perfect or near perfect scores were invited to participate. Positive feedback was received from internal and external buddies. Students appreciated being able to ask questions in a comfortable environment. They found it helpful being in a group and having things explained, and being able to ask questions. Buddy leaders helped clarify concepts for students that prepared them for assessments which they wouldn't have been confident about seeking help from those in higher positions. Students stated they found it helpful having things explained simply, they felt they were not alone and they thought that their leaders were amazing and the extra help was fantastic. Buddies believed their time was spent productively, they gained a strong sense of responsibility and a sense of belonging in a group. This indicates students may find it easier seeking help from students their own age and find it less intimidating than asking a tutor. This links to peer learning and the concept that students learn more when working together. Therefore, it is possible creating a buddy scheme in which ‘at risk’ students are grouped with higher achieving students can result in higher academic grades being attained, increased confidence levels and a greater sense of belonging.

Click here to read about the implementation of a buddy scheme at the University of Hertfordshire


A study by Campbell (2015) investigated the impact of a buddy scheme on first year pre-registration child nursing students. All the students reported they had benefited from the scheme and 40% of them stated they would like a buddy in their second year. First-year students were able to learn from their second-year peer group about the professional expectations of them in practice as first-year student nurses. Second-year students were able to understand how the first-year students felt and could easily answer their questions. There were also opportunities for students to meet up and attend social events. Moreover, Deary et al (2003) observed that buddy support affords new students the chance to ask their peer group questions that they may feel are inappropriate to ask lecturers, and may help new students to deal with situations they find stressful.

Furthermore, a study by Mason and Hickman (2017) investigated the impact of a pilot buddy scheme on PhD students in the Liverpool Business School. All new PhD students in that academic year were assigned a mentor based primarily on a shared supervisor and/or similar research area. They found the scheme had many benefits such as: having a mentor helped some mentees to feel more comfortable in the new surroundings, both mentors and mentees initially believed that all the benefits of the scheme were reaped by the mentees, as the mentors gave of their time, shared their experience of various academic procedures, knowledge of the university processes and resources, and locations of places within the campus. Overall, mentees found practical support particularly helpful. Mentors gained confidence, improved their own knowledge and understanding and gained skills useful for teaching and supervision, networking and working together on projects. Additionally, mentors believed the scheme benefited them socially (Mason and Hickman 2017).


Murray and Owen (1991) suggested that the ways to make mentoring work include: selecting an appropriate title for the role of mentor, describing their responsibilities, advertising and making it easy to respond, screening candidates for readiness, making a suitable match with the mentee, orientating mentors to the role and making it matter to the mentors. Mentees choosing their own mentor has real advantages (Earnshaw, 1995) such as the mentoring process being more successful. Jucovy (2000) suggested training is a central feature of success and should include information about the first year students, mentors roles and expectations, building relationships and communication skills. In addition, ongoing training should cover issues such as diversity and cultural sensitivity, skills for setting limits with their mentee, problem-solving skills, and conflict resolution (Jucovy, 2000).

Click here to read about the implementation of a peer mentoring training programme at the University of Ottawa

Click here to read about the principles and standards of mentoring schemes at Newcastle University

Capstone Project

A capstone project is defined by the Glossary of Education Reform (2016) as ‘a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students, typically during their final year of studies.’ Some studies and experiences presented in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) literature link capstone projects with active learning and problem based learning (Dunlap, 2005; Wosinski et al., 2018) and view capstone projects as a way to involve students in taking a lead role in designing and implementing their capstone project (Gorman, 2011; Nelson & Bianco, 2013; Reinicke & Janicki, 2010). In addition, capstone projects are informed by the frameworks of work‐integrated and work-related learning (Cooper et al., 2010; Gardner & Barktus, 2014). Capstone projects may take a wide variety of forms, however most are long-term investigative projects that culminate in a final product, presentation or performance. Capstone projects are generally designed to develop students skills which include; multi-disciplinary team-work, application of theory, data interpretation, problem solving, design, communication skills, and ethics (Ward, 2013). They can take between 10 weeks and two semesters to complete, however most last around one semester (ED Glossary, 2016). A primary goal of the capstone experience is to develop statistical thinking and a statistical perspective in students, so that they can best contribute to multidisciplinary situations (Brown and Kass 2009).


Benefits of capstone projects include its effects on student identity and persistence (Collier, 2000), its integrative effects in promoting liberal education (Durel, 1993), and its role in preparing students both for graduate work and for lives as active citizens (Davis, 1993). Ward (2013) proposed capstone projects are also used to inculcate professional skills amongst the students, which are difficult to impart in a traditional form of lecture based class or a course. Martonosi and Williams (2016) believe capstone experiences encourage students to think critically by solving challenging problems, often developing skills such as teamwork and oral communication along the way. Capstone projects tend to encourage students to connect their projects to community issues or problems, and to integrate outside-of-uni learning experiences, including activities such as interviews, scientific observations, or internships (ED glossary, 2016). According to Vardanega and Fedeli (2018), capstones raise the employability of students and shorten the time required for their full entrance in the production world. This suggests students find capstone projects to be very beneficial to their learning and future work. They are able to gain experience which cannot be gained through lectures alone.

Moreover, a study by Peterson et al., (2011) found social work capstone projects had many benefits for students. Students stated the project helped them think critically about practice, evaluate their practice, and learn more about themselves in how they work. Furthermore, it: enhanced their familiarity with evidence based practice concepts, improved their ability to locate research literature related to social work practice, and supported a sense of preparedness to use best practices in actual social work interventions. This indicates it could be students who have participated in capstone projects during their time at university are at a higher advantage than students who have not, as it prepares them for real life challenges and equips them with necessary skills needed for future work, potentially increasing their chances of employability. Therefore, providing students in every subject with the opportunity to participate in at least one capstone project could have positive outcomes.


Most significant among the challenges confronting capstone instructors, according to Hauhart and Grahe’s (2015) systematic national research, are those presented by limitations associated with lack of student preparation and restricted time frames. Students who require significant supervision and direction could find it difficult to move through the project very quickly to complete it on the necessary schedule. Although the one semester course is not ideal, as it compresses the time necessary for a research project, it remains the most common structure for the capstone (Hauhart & Grahe, 2015). Similarly, Eppes and Milanovic (2011) stated disadvantages of industry sponsored capstone projects are that having sponsors may require pre-planning before the project commences and could impact the planned project schedule. This suggests planning, preparation and lack of time are the main factors which affect the success of capstone projects. If possible, planning months in advance would help to minimise this problem.


The practice of embedding capstone projects in the organisation is framed by multiple theoretical frameworks. One of them is active learning, which is seen as ‘any instructional method that engages students in the learning process’ (Prince, 2004). According to Viswanathan (2017) capstone projects should have: a clearly defined proposal at the beginning. Focus on the application of materials learned throughout the programme to solve multi-faceted problems such as those they would encounter in the students’ post-academic employment. Easy to comprehend and at the same time, they should provide students with the opportunity to apply concepts from many courses and develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. Typically, students select their team members for the project. The success of a project often depends on positive team dynamics. This was found to be the most critical issue for completing the projects on time. Unfortunately, higher achieving students often join together to form teams and this leaves the academically weaker students to fend for themselves. In order to avoid such a situation from being repeated, a skill matrix of all students should be developed to assist students in forming teams (Viswanathan, 2017). It could be using this approach when selecting teams would be the most effective, as it allows students to combine and build on their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

Click here to read about the implementation of a capstone project at Northeastern University

Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental instruction (SI) was introduced in 1994 at the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University as an experimental project to increase student retention and improve performance in courses generally considered as difficult (Bruzell-Nilsson and Bryngfors 1996). SI is defined as an assistive programme that seeks to improve academic performance via peer mediated instruction. (Arendale, 2006). According to the Student Learning Assistance Centre (n.d.), SI is a non-traditional form of tutoring that focuses on collaboration, group study, and interaction for assisting students in undertaking ‘traditionally difficult’ courses. It targets courses with a minimum 30% rate of students that drop, withdraw, or fail, and then provides a trained peer who has successfully negotiated the course to assist its future students. Through 50-minute SI sessions, students are provided with course-specific learning and study strategies, note taking and test taking skills, as well as the opportunity for a structured study time with peers (Student Learning Assistance Centre n.d.). Developed initially at the University of Missouri, the International Centre for Supplemental Instruction highlights three goals of SI: improve student learning, reduce attrition rates in historically difficult courses and increase graduation rates (University of Missouri, 2007). Rather than targeting ‘at risk’ students, SI concentrates on programmes with high drop-out rates (Hilsdon, 2013).


There is much evidence that supports the effectiveness of SI (Dawson et al., 2014). According to Moore and LeDee (2006), SI promotes socialisation and interaction among students of varying abilities, therefore the stigma of being a high risk ‘remedial’ student is reduced, if not eliminated. Another advantage of SI is that it is proactive in nature, rather than reactive and it enables student aptitude for course content while simultaneously teaching effective study strategies (Hurley et al., 2006). Furthermore, several case studies have found SI to have a range of benefits for students and leaders. A study by Ribera et al., (2012) aimed to gain insight into the types of PASS experiences students are having and found students who participate in PASS reported higher gains in practical skills, personal and social development, and general education than students who do not. Malm et al., (2012) investigated the benefits of PASS leadership. They discovered PASS leaders develop many skills such as leadership, social competence, mathematics, encouragement, flexibility, planning, organising and listening. Similarly, Stout and McDaniel (2006) stated SI leaders benefit from the programme academically and they reported improved communication skills, increased self-confidence, leadership skills and team-building strategies. Moreover, a study by Ning and Downing (2010) found SI participants from a university in Hong Kong had significantly larger improvements than non-participants in the comparison of pre- and post-intervention information processing and motivation scores. They also found SI intervention has significant direct effects on both learning competence and academic performance.


The effectiveness of SI may be compromised under certain circumstances. SI can be costly and requires a large number of staff to be trained (Dawson et al., 2014). Lindsay et al., (2017) consider SI to be ineffective in classes where students are unable to read, write, take notes or study at the HE level. Furthermore, Dondolo and Nkoni (2016) observed some of the barriers of SI and concluded there can be a lack of understanding by first year students of the principles of SI which resulted in some students likening SI sessions to lecture and tutorial modes of instruction. They also considered some SI leaders may not adhere to the principles of SI during their facilitation.


Click below to read about the implementation of SI programme’s at:



A.B. Hassan, O. (2014), "The role of peer-learning and formative assessment in effective engineering learning environments", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 285-294.

American Heritage Dictionary (2011) available at:

Andrews, J. and Clark, R. (2011) Peer mentoring works! How peer mentoring enhances student success in higher education. Available at:

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