Learning Assistance

Lilly, M., & Sands, J. (2019). Guide for Peer Learning Facilitators. University of Minnesota https://z.umn.edu/PALfacilitatorguide


The Guide for Peer Learning Facilitators is the foundation of a formal training program at the University of Minnesota, in which undergraduate students learn how to lead weekly study sessions for their peers in a classroom setting for specific courses – primarily ones with high enrollment and prone to higher than average D,F, Withdrawal rates. Training and professional development throughout the academic year have been the cornerstones to the success the facilitators have realized. The eight principles that govern the program – crafted by Dr. David Arendale in his original publication of the same name – address topics such as cooperative learning theory, multicultural competency, metacognition, study strategies, and group dynamics. The book, updated in April 2019, also provides a directory of useable forms and worksheets and a bibliography of related publications.

Benson, J., & Lilly, M. (2017). Peer-Assisted Learning Program: Guide for team leaders. University of Minnesota. https://z.umn.edu/PALleaderguide


The Guide for Team Leaders is designed to inspire personal exploration of leadership within PAL, SI, and related academic support programs. Depending on the program, there may already be an existing structure in place where an experienced facilitator/leader mentors their own team of peers functioning in a similar role. These team leaders can create opportunities for members to interact, share knowledge, and promote the professional growth of their peers.

This guide was originally designed to support the growth of such team leaders within the Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Program at the University of Minnesota. However, as this work progressed, it became clear that the ideas were applicable to a variety of team leadership roles. This hands-on guide delves into such topics as meta-cognition, team member identity and participation, meeting/discussion topics and activities, and much more. Interactive activities encourage readers to reflect on these topics, while providing ample space for them to record their insights. It complements the Guide for Peer Learning Facilitators and utilizes activities in Tried and Tweaked, both of which are works developed by the University of Minnesota’s PAL Program.

2018 Revised Annotated Bibliography of Postsecondary Peer Cooperative Learning Programs

I am happy to announce that the 2018 Revised Annoated Bibliography of Postsecondary Peer Cooperative Learning Programs is now available to download. Click on this link for a PDF or Word version of it.

There are now nearly 1,500 entries spanning 488 pages. I noticed recent listserv conversations about locating research studies to support Supplemental Instruction programs or similar approaches operating at the college level. The directory grew significantly in the past two years. The directory includes the Emerging Scholars Program (Dr. Uri Treisman model), Peer-Led Team Learning, Supplemental Instruction, and Video-based Supplemental Instruction, Structured Learning Assistance, Accelerated Learning Groups, and Peer Assisted Learning.

You can download the directory as a PDF or Word document. I also included some sub-topics of the directory such as facilitator development, vocational influence, identity development and more. I also provide the EndNote library file to allow you to more easily search the database for the topic you want.  Be sure also to download the keyword search guide to discover all the ways to search the contents for the information you want. Other bibliographic database systems may be able to open the EndNote file but I am not an expert with that process.

No doubt I missed some citations related to these seven major peer learning programs. Please send me the citation and perhaps a copy of the publication and I will be happy to include in an update. Thanks for consideration.

Approaches to Learning Assistance: Concurrent Acquition of Knowledge and Skills

With this blog posting, I pick back up on my series of samples from my book, Assistance at the Crossroads described in the left-hand column of this website.  There are many ways that academic help can be provided for college students who are struggling in some of their classes. 

This learning assistance approach operates through concurrent learning experiences. Students simultaneously enroll in a college-level class, whether or not they have been identified as academically underprepared, and use learning assistance services to support their learning in that class. A common characteristic of such a class is academic rigor exceeding the average of other college-level classes. These courses are challenging for many students, and the classes have high withdrawal and failure rates. Sometimes they are called “gatekeeper” classes (Jenkins, Jaggars, and Roksa, 2009).

For purposes of this discussion, this historically difficult class is called a “target class,” as learning assistance services are customized and “targeted” for serving students enrolled in that specific course. Other students in the same class that have not been identified as academically underprepared for content material in that particular class are welcome to use the learning assistance activities as supplemental or enrichment experiences to deepen mastery of course content. This concurrent acquisition approach is divided into three smaller groups of activities: those offered as supplemental learning experiences through the student’s voluntary participation; those offered as a coordinated program that requires moderate involvement by the target course instructor; and those embedded, infused, or mainstreamed in the course targeted for academic support that thereby serve all students enrolled in the class, regardless of their academic preparation.

One of the activities described in the previous section on prerequisite acquisition approaches could also have appeared in this section. Because most students enroll in only a single developmental course, the rest of their courses are at the college level. These students concurrently develop competency through the developmental course while they advance their knowledge and skills through the college-level courses. The key issue that places developmental courses in the previous section is that students are not ready to enroll in the college-level course for which they are underprepared. They are, however, ready for enrollment in other college-level courses. (To be continued.....)

Prerequisite Approach to Learning Assistance: Developmental-Level Courses, Part Four

The following is an excerpt from my book, "Access at the crossroads" described in the left-hand column.

A learning assistance approach that bridges the prerequisite acquisition approach of this section and the concurrent acquisition approach in the next is to place developmental courses in learning communities. To overcome disconnection that sometimes occurs for students in developmental courses with subsequent college-level courses in the academic sequence, some institutions place these courses in learning communities, integrating them with other college-level introductory courses (Malnarich and others, 2003). For example, a reading course might be paired with a reading-intensive course like introduction to psychology or world history. A rigorous study explored the impact of these learning communities. At Kingsborough Community College (part of the City University of New York), students scoring low on admission tests for English were placed in a learning community that included a developmental English course, a course in health or psychology, and a one-credit orientation course. Using a randomized trial that placed students in this learning community or a control group, the students in the experimental group experienced higher outcomes—enrolling in more courses, passing more classes, earning more college credits, and earning higher English test scores needed for a college degree (Scrivener and others, 2008).

Prerequisite Approach to Learning Assistance: Developmental-Level Courses, Part Three

The following is an excerpt from my book, "Access at the crossroads" described int he left-hand column.

Several reasons are possible why analysis of developmental courses sometimes yields mixed or negative results. As stated earlier about remedial courses, it is unreasonable to expect that years of inadequate education or ineffective student effort in high school can be overcome by a single developmental course. A second reason may be a basic flaw in research design. Previous national studies (Bailey, 2009; Kulik, Kulik, and Schwalb, 1983; Roueche and Roueche, 1993, 1999) did not add variables to their analyses concerning attributes of the developmental courses and contexts in which they were offered. They did not have the ability to sort out poorly managed, average, or well-managed programs. When student data from all institutions are aggregated, it is not surprising to find inconclusive results. A finer level of analysis is needed for this complex issue. The only national study on developmental courses was sponsored through the Exxon Foundation in the late 1980s; it found these courses effective when they observed best practices and poor results for those that did not (Boylan, Bonham, and Bliss, 1994).

The bottom line is that more careful and detailed research is needed to understand developmental courses and the variables that affect their effectiveness. Proponents and opponents of developmental courses call for more research in this area (Bailey, 2009; Boylan, Saxon, Bonham, and Parks, 1993). As the most vexing and controversial element of learning assistance, this issue demands careful and detailed national study. It is one of the recommendations for action listed in the final chapter of this report.

Prerequisite Approach to Learning Assistance: Developmental-Level Courses, Part Two

The following is an excerpt from my book, "Access at the crossroads" described in the left-hand column.

Sometimes students who enroll in these classes feel disconnected, perhaps because of the administrative location of the remedial or developmental course. No uniform pattern exists for location of these credit courses across the United States. At some institutions, the courses are taught in the academic departments of mathematics, psychology, or writing. At other institutions, the courses and other learning assistance activities are clustered in a separate academic or administrative unit in the institution (Boylan, Bonham, and Bliss, 1994).

A review of the professional literature identifies developmental courses as the most controversial and contested element of learning assistance. They have ignited fierce public debates between supporters and opponents. As described in one of the contemporary controversies, opponents of these courses question colleges dealing with learning competencies that should have been met while the student was in high school. With scarce funds for postsecondary education, spending money on instruction of remedial and developmental courses appears to duplicate efforts by the high school and waste precious resources. Another issue that critics raise with these courses is their effectiveness.

Although a review of the ERIC database and the professional literature reveals institutional studies affirming the efficacy of developmental courses, few national research studies are available of developmental courses. Older national studies found when developmental courses are offered separate from other learning assistance activities, the results are sometimes inconclusive (Kulik, Kulik, and Schwalb, 1983; Roueche and Roueche, 1993, 1999).  Bailey (2009) analyzed these courses with a national dataset and found them ineffective. Among his recommendations were more research on these courses and use of more noncredit learning assistance services such as peer study groups.