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Chris Farmer

Corporate Coach Group

Founder & leadership and management trainer

Read more from Chris Farmer

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Social learning: how L&D can help upskill colleagues to be coaches for their teams

Eight ways to turn your employees into performance coaches to enable peer-to-peer learning.

Your organisation has an abundance of valuable information, which is encoded into the minds of your most experienced and talented staff. Peer-to-peer learning is the art of systematically distributing that knowledge and experience across the organisation by training high performing staff to become performance coaches to their peers.

Peer-to-peer learning has the potential to revolutionise your organisation’s approach to training and embed good practice at all levels.

Performance coaches must know how to effectively train others in such a way that they can understand, remember and use expert knowledge. In this article, we’ll cover the key principles of effective coaching and training to help your performance coaches get off to a flying start.

1. Structure your message like a tree

All knowledge has a branching structure, similar to a tree:

  • The trunk of the tree represents the essential knowledge
  • The main branches represent the main sub topics
  • The minor branches are the more numerous subsets
  • The leaves on the tree are the innumerable details 

When we are training, we move through the structure in a systematic, well-paced manner. We repeat and reinforce the basic structure so their memory and understanding has time to grasp it.

2. Limit the amount

The short-term memory is limited. Most people cannot absorb more than about nine bits of information in any given session. If you overwhelm your learners with too much too soon, then you will lose their understanding and interest. Break your presentation into sections, each one containing three to nine units of information. 

3. Define your key terms

Many terms we use have multiple possible meanings. Terms such as ‘fairness’, ‘appropriate behaviour’, ‘sustainable’, etc all have multiple possible meanings, which makes them vague and ambiguous.

As trainers we need to be clear and distinct in our use of language, and we do that by giving a clear definition for all our key terms. ‘Key terms’ are the essential concepts, ideas and principles that you need the learners to understand, and each one needs to be given a clear and distinct definition.

4. Illustrate by giving or asking for specific examples

After we have given a definition for each key concept, we should illustrate it with real life examples. Examples are a great way to teach, when used in conjunction with definitions.

5. Perfect practice makes perfect

You have heard the adage that ‘practice makes perfect’. That is not necessarily true. It is possible to practice mistakes until you can repeat your mistakes perfectly, every time. Here’s the point: only ‘perfect practice’ makes perfect. Careless practice of a skill is counterproductive because you will be embedding an error.

Use the following perfect practice formula:

  • Approach each critical task with an explicit goal of getting better at it. Set goals that are just slightly beyond the current level of competency.
  • As they do the task, focus on what’s happening, and how and why they are doing it the way they are.
  • After the task, get or give feedback on the performance. Ask people to not become emotional about any critical feedback. Simply make changes (improvements) in form of performance, as necessary.
  • Continually build improved mental models of the task. As we progress, we expand our mental models to encompass more factors.
  • Practice regularly: occasional practice does not work well. Consistency is the key.
  • Don’t stress. Relax. Understand that learning often takes place subconsciously. Our job is to feed the subconscious mind – we don’t send it error messages.

6. Proper pacing

Pacing is the speed of delivery – i.e. how fast you talk and how fast you move through your material. Slow down and give sufficient time for your message to be assimilated. If we go too fast, we outpace the speed at which the learners can assimilate the content and they tune out. If we go too slowly, we bore our learners and they tune out.

What evidence shows that we are delivering at the right speed? We see active delegates who are fully engaged and asking questions or taking notes.

7. Involve all their senses

Your learners have nine mental faculties: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, logic, emotion, creativity and a sense of humour. We should try to use methods that will engage as many of these senses as possible.

8. Use memory aids that make messages stick like glue

Mnemonics are special methods of presenting information that make it much easier to remember. Mnemonics techniques can be memorised by the following mnemonic: R.A.I.S.E.

  • R     Repetition
  • A     Association
  • I    Imagination
  • S    Structure
  • E    Energy


If we hear it only once, we forget most of it. To remember it, we must hear it more than once. To help people remember things repeat your messages. Repetition is the mother of skill.


Training people is the art of associating new facts to their existing knowledge.


Imagery is the ability to generate vivid, colourful pictures in the mind’s eye. Using the imagination to create vivid image-based associations is a key memory technique.


Knowledge is hierarchical – or at least it should be. Structure your message like a tree.


Energy is everything. We bring energy to our training and bring it to life.

Peer-to-peer learning has the potential to revolutionise your organisation’s approach to training and embed good practice at all levels. To reach its full potential, however, it’s crucial that the performance coaches in your team understand how others learn and are equipped to share their knowledge in the most effective way.

Interested in this topic? Read Social learning: a collaborative approach for the digital age.

Author Profile Picture
Chris Farmer

Founder & leadership and management trainer

Read more from Chris Farmer

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