Peer-assisted learning: Time for nomenclature clarification

Alexander Olaussen, Priya Reddy, Susan Irvine, Brett Anthony Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Peer-assisted learning (PAL) is used throughout all levels of healthcare education. Lack of formalised agreement on different PAL programmes may confuse the literature. Given the increasing interest in PAL as an education philosophy, the terms need clarification. The aim of this review is to 1) describe different PAL programmes, 2) clarify the terminology surrounding PAL, and 3) propose a simple pragmatic way of defining PAL programmes based on their design.

Methods: A review of current PAL programmes within the healthcare setting was conducted. Each programme was scrutinised based on two aspects: the relationship between student and teacher, and the student to teacher ratio. The studies were then shown to fit exclusively into the novel proposed classification.

Results: The 34 programmes found, demonstrate a wide variety in terms used. We established six terms, which exclusively applied to the programmes. The relationship between student and teacher was categorised as peer-to-peer or near-peer. The student to teacher ratio suited three groupings, named intuitively ‘Mentoring’ (1:1 or 1:2), ‘Tutoring’ (1:310), and‘Didactic’ (1:10). From this, six novel terms all under the heading of PAL are suggested: ‘Peer Mentoring’, ‘Peer Tutoring’, ‘Peer Didactic’, ‘Near-Peer Mentoring’, ‘Near-Peer Tutoring’, and ‘Near-Peer Didactic’.

Conclusions: We suggest herein a simple pragmatic terminology to overcome ambiguous terminology.Academically, clear terms will allow effective and efficient research, ensuring furthering of the educational philosophy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30974
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Education Online: an electronic journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2016


  • Didactic
  • Mentor
  • Near-peer
  • Near-peer teacher
  • PAL
  • Peer-assisted learning
  • Tutoring

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