Peer Assisted Learning benefits both Learners and Leaders

Almost four years since its inception, Sylvia Yeo reports on the continuing success of SIM's student-to-student support network
Cassandra Ang
PAL has allowed Cassandra Ang (pictured above right) to be more confident in public speaking
It provides a community that goes beyond the usual lecture curriculum and reinforces the understanding of subjects in an intimate and informal way

It was just a day after the last University of London examination for the year. Staff and students gathered at SIM Headquarters to thank the outgoing PAL Leaders for their contributions. Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is a scheme which started in August 2013. The SIM Global Education PAL programme is an academic student-to-student support network which assists new students in adapting smoothly to university life and provides academic assistance for selected subjects.

PAL Leaders, who are senior students that have completed the subjects with excellent grades and have undergone facilitation and leadership training, volunteer to help bridge the gap for juniors by sharing their study skills. Leaders also help students by improving their understanding of a subject and further developing learning strategies through collaborative learning. They often meet with students in small groups for one and a half hours each week to facilitate their learning and to encourage them to be independent learners.

With one subject (Mathematics 1) in 2013, PAL started with 137 PAL Learners and 25 PAL Leaders. The programme has since grown to incorporate five University of London subjects and 10 more subjects from across four other SIM programmes. On 1 June 2017, a short presentation ceremony was held to thank each of the 85 PAL Leaders who have helped 1,356 Learners over the past 12 months at SIM.

PAL Leaders at SIM

Chang Kai Hsiang and Raymond Hong were PAL Learners in their first year at SIM Global Education. It was not that they were weak students. They just took up the help that was offered by seniors and by SIM. It so inspired them that in their second year at SIM, they became PAL Leaders, each a chaperone to a group of juniors. In their final year of their undergraduate studies, they were appointed Senior PAL Leaders. This meant they had to coach a group of new PAL Leaders each. Their duties expanded to include lesson observations and conducting regular meetings with the new Leaders.

PAL Leader reflections

Cassandra Ang (see main photo) was shy when she started out at SIM. She knew she wanted to do more after the first year and accepted SIM’s invitation to be a PAL Leader during her second year. PAL has allowed her to be more confident in public speaking. It has also given her great satisfaction to facilitate her peers in their learning, seeing them grow into independent learners. The confidence she has gained from the training, and the actual coaching, has equipped her to be an even better piano teacher.

The PAL programme creates a student-centric community where students learn that they can depend on one another.

James Ong says the PAL programme creates a student-centric community where students learn that they can depend on one another.

Gerald Lim says the PAL programme is more than just a facilitation scheme. It provides a community that goes beyond the usual lecture curriculum and reinforces the understanding of subjects in an intimate and informal way.

Being a PAL Leader is not without its highs and lows. Read Lee Yue Ming’s journal entry reflections halfway through the semester:

"Second session this week, 4th hour tackling the same topic and everyone's a little frustrated with each other. I had to control the discussion before an argument arose. I know that my role is to guide them through, not give them the answer to the question. Ready to give up.

Suddenly, one of the learners sits back and stares at the white board in awe, a look of comprehension. She understands.

I ask her a few planned questions to test her understanding. She does.

I sit back and let her help her peers. They question her thoroughly.

Her answers sound a little uncertain, but she answers them fully. The group slowly understands her point of view. I didn’t need to do anything else as they were helping each other.”

On thinking back, Yue Ming shared that this journal entry made him proud to have signed up to be a facilitator. Helping students make sense of what they were studying made all the difference. It was not surprising that when Yue Ming was invited to share his experience with the freshmen about PAL, he jumped at the opportunity to promote the programme.

Many of the PAL Leaders have continued on to master’s programmes. 

Benefits of being a PAL Learner

James Ong

Other than the obvious academic help for a particular subject, PAL Leader, James Ong (pictured right), highlights some additional benefits of being a PAL Learner:

  • seniors guide freshmen on how to adjust to the academic style of the University of London programme
  • freshmen are coached about their plans ahead – planning holidays, LSE Summer School vs internships, module selection
  • study skills and learning strategies are discussed.

PAL Leaders pursue master’s at prestigious universities

Many of the PAL Leaders have continued on to master’s programmes. The pioneer group of PAL Leaders saw Liew Li Ting study at LSE for an MSc Economics in 2014. Her study buddy, Cheong Jia Lun, joined Nanyang Technological University (NTU) for a master’s programme in 2016. Two-time PAL Leader, Delfilia Surya did her master’s at the University of Warwick in 2015. This year, Lim Chia Wei is one of two inaugural recipients of a scholarship to study a master’s at a University of London member institution. He will pursue an MSc Computational Statistics and Finance at University College London in September 2017.

PAL trivia (University of London programme only)

  • 52 PAL leaders (an all-time high) supported 902 PAL Learners.
  • Ratio of local vs international students is 67:33. Among the student population, 14% are international students.
  • For 2016-2017, the application to be a PAL Leader was 1.8 times oversubscribed.
  • Since PAL started in August 2013, 2,500 students have benefitted as PAL Learners.
  • PAL subjects offered for 2017-2018 are Mathematics 1 (MT105A), Introduction to economics (EC1002), Principles of accounting (AC1025), Statistics 2 (ST104B) and Macroeconomics (EC2065).
  • Lecturers who have supported PAL are Dr Phil Stephenson, Dr Paul Tiong, Dr Zhang Jianlin, Ms Lee Chin Choo, Dr James Abdey (LSE).

PAL Learners stand to gain from the extra academic help extended to them. From where we stand, the ones who gain the most seem to be the PAL Leaders – their lives have been enriched.

  • Sylvia Yeo is SIM's Assistant Director for Higher Education.
  • SIM Global Education is an Affiliate Centre for the University of London International Programmes.
  • Find out more about studying for a University of London degree in Singapore.