Distance learning: encouraging a learning community through peer review

I discovered an exciting concept while studying quality distance learning. The concept is the development of a learning community. The learning community can increase student success in distance learning courses by asking students to be accountable to one another as well as being accountable to the instructor.

I think a great way to facilitate a learning community is to have the students assist one another by way of peer review.

When I write peer review, I can almost hear you groan. Seriously. Peer review has a terrible reputation. We’ve all given and gotten bad peer review. Or, we’ve given good solid peer review and been rebuffed. Peer review is very personal, and it’s difficult to do it well.

An online classroom is a difficult place to foster a web of relationships–relationships among the students as well as a relationship between each student and the instructor. However, peer review requires students to interact. If you can teach students to give and get good peer review on the first day of class, you can use it properly as a tool throughout the duration of the class. If you can use peer review well, relationships may form, and they may even persist outside of the classroom long after the class is over. Relationships can be important in distance learning classrooms because, as I mentioned in this post, “The most frequent complaint of online learners is a feeling of isolation from the learning community. Using online groups, engaging activities, frequent discussion topics, and other active learning strategies can reduce the anxiety of participants by helping them establish online relationships with their peers.” (Silberman, 2005b, loc 1296…sorry, I read it on my Kindle).

So, in the interest of giving and getting good peer review, I developed this checklist based on my own experience as well as Silberman & Handsburg’s How to Encourage Constructive Feedback from Others (2005a). If you use this list in your online classroom, I’d love to hear from you.

Giving good peer review

  • Tell the person what you liked, or what you thought was well done
  • Tell the person what you think met the assignment criteria and what did not
  • Support your suggestions for improvement with textbook material, in-class notes, or other resources
  • Recognize that we all have our own styles of doing things, and many styles are valid.
  • Do not share unrelated preferences in peer review. For example, if your peer’s assignment fits the criteria and is properly executed, but you simply do not like it (i.e. it was written about cats and you prefer dogs), please do not share that information.
  • Think about things you would want to know about your own assignments, and offer those thoughts as peer review
  • As questions about unclear ideas
  • Think of your feedback as “helping the other person to get a better grade”
  • No assignment is perfect. There is always room for improvement. Challenge yourself to help your classmate take their assignment from “great” to “super great” by giving a valid review

Getting good peer review

  • Thank your colleague for reviewing your work
  • If there is something specific you want to hear about, tell your reviewer. It can be as simple as, “Can you double check my grammar, too? Sometimes, I have trouble with that.”
  • Be gracious about suggestions for improvement
  • Ask questions about anything unclear
  • If you do not agree with the reviewer, there is no point in arguing. Thank them for their opinion and seek another for verification. Please feel free to approach the instructor for a clearer understanding of whether the work is correct. In addition, feel free to disregard any review ideas with which you disagree. It’s your work. You can choose suggestions to implement at your own discretion.
  • Know that sometimes negative feedback simply means something is unclear in your work—it may not be necessarily wrong—it’s just a bit ambiguous. Look through your work from a clarity perspective to see if anything can be improved.
  • If the review seems picky, that’s a GOOD thing. That means nothing was wrong except maybe that little errant comma. This is a compliment.


Commonwealth of Learning. (2010). Instructional Design for Self-Learning for Distance Education. Retrieved from Commonwealth of Learning: http://www.col.org/resources/publications/trainingresources/knowledge/Pages/instDesign.aspx

Silberman, M., & Hansburg, F. (2005a). How to Encourage Constructive Feedback from Others. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Silberman, M. L. (2005b). 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Pfieffer.

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