Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Peer-Led Team Learning in an Online Course on Controversial Medication Issues and the US Healthcare System

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Peer-Led Team Learning in an Online Course on Controversial Medication Issues and the US Healthcare System

Article excerpt


Peer-led team learning is an established instructional model that has its origins in science education and is built on the constructivist theoretical frameworks of cooperative and collaborative learning. (1) This educational approach is an example of active learning, which defines meaningful learning as student engagement with complex, authentic problems, as well as social interaction with peers and others. Within education, leveraging complex, real-world learning activities and assessments with instructor workload poses a real challenge to instructional design. While students undoubtedly benefit from active-learning opportunities, these kinds of experiences require individualized and timely feedback, as well as ongoing practice, which can be a challenge for even the most experienced instructor. Instructors can mitigate their workload by using other learners as part of the educational design. In addition to managing the workload of a course, peers are also a potential source of educational scaffolding. Educational scaffolding is the support required for students to engage in authentic, complex tasks through demonstration, feedback, and other necessary resources to allow for successful completion. [2-4]

The use of expert peer-facilitated learning is not new, especially in health professional education. [5] Residents have commonly played a role in teaching students on clinical practice experiences or leading small-group discussions in a classroom setting. Peer-to-peer teaching is also not new, especially the use of discussion as a specific peer-to-peer active-learning strategy. [6] Ideally, with peer-to-peer teaching, peers learn from their experiences while simultaneously contributing to the learning of others. [7] This means that the entire instructional team is prepared to play the role of leader and teacher in an environment where there are multiple opportunities to use this strategy throughout the course. Those educational researchers and theorists who are proponents of peer-to-peer teaching, emphasize the importance of having a good strategy design to achieve the desired learning outcomes. [8,9]

This manuscript describes how peer-led team learning and learning technologies were used in an online course to achieve complex learning goals among a diverse group of student learners, while maintaining a manageable instructor workload. The learning objectives of this course were for students to combine and apply course content knowledge with evidence-based persuasive argumentation skills through completion of a capstone grant proposal project, critically assess the evidence-based argumentations skills of others through peer review of classmates' grant proposal projects, and to actively reflect on attitudes regarding their personal rights and responsibilities to be engaged in healthcare debates.


Students studied controversial issues surrounding medications and the US healthcare system and then developed written statements to communicate ideas, persuade others, and defend their viewpoints related to the content. These activities were accomplished through 3 primary assessments: weekly small-group discussions in online forums, 3 reflective assignments, and a final capstone grant proposal project requiring critical reviews of peers' projects as a factor in their own final project grades. Students examined the critical role of medications and the structure that shapes and influences medication use and regulation in the US healthcare system. Students also drew comparisons between medication-use systems around the world and considered other controversies related to access to and choice and quality of health care. Through readings and assessments, students explored not only the impact that human choices, ethics, and behaviors have on the societal decisions surrounding the availability of medications in the United States, but also their rights and responsibilities to be a part of national and worldwide healthcare and medication debates. …

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