Increasing Understanding through Peer and Project-based Learning

This project was derived from the desire of a small group of women to learn about new types of technology and use this knowledge to help both themselves and their communities. We developed the structure of the technology trainings to work with just a few co-researchers, the peer teachers, twice a week, who would then teach a larger group of pilot trainees on the two other days of the week. This plan was central in preparing the women to eventually teach other members of the Women’s Networking Group without additional help.

Structure of programme, detailing flow of knowledge between groups

The most obvious result of the technology trainings was that the women left with a practiced set of skills that mainly, but not exclusively, related to computers. The topics decided on consisted of skills for the computer necessary to obtain a job, as well as skills requested by our co-researchers. They included:

  • Turning the computer on and off
  • How to use the mouse and keyboard
  • Windows basics
  • Navigating the file browser and accessing files from flash drives
  • Navigating the Internet
  • Searching on Google- specifically how to troubleshoot problems
  • Using G-mail
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft Word- specifically for CV typing


The sessions between us and the teachers started out with a lot of structure in order to prepare the teachers for what would be covered with the pilot trainees the next day. We would then conduct more formal training sessions with the pilot trainees where we walked the whole group through a series of steps, followed by breaking off in smaller groups where the teachers would demonstrate these skills to the pilot trainees one-on-one. Eventually, trainings became less formal as both groups expressed interest in teaching. Peer teaching techniques led to a faster spread of knowledge because it allowed the teachers and pilot trainees to explain concepts and questions they had entirely in Xhosa, which the women were generally more comfortable speaking. The women were also learning from their friends and acquaintances who knew better what they were experiencing, since they just recently went through the same learning process. This was also effective because it was clear the women felt more comfortable with one another than they did with us, and felt less afraid to try new things lest they make mistakes. Working together allowed the women to work through problems together much more efficiently than they would on their own.


Despite seeing that these informal, more peer-based learning sessions were quite effective, it is impossible to know how effective such informal sessions would have been as the original format used to teach essential computer skills. Our co-researchers took the lead in most of the informal sessions with their trainees, who they believed would respond better if the days were less structured. The unexpected change in the method of teaching that was most effective according to our co-researchers showed us just how capable of running this programme on their own the women were. We were glad to see our co-researchers participating in Shared Action Learning and strengthening the training programme.


As these informal sessions showed promise and the training program as a whole evolved through collaboration between us and the teachers, it was decided based on conversations with our co-researchers and liaisons about the interest of the Women’s Networking Group that the original project-based focus of creating an asset map would not meet the needs of the programme and the women. Instead, the women requested that the theme of the trainings become job acquisition, as the women could much more easily see the benefits of having increased access to jobs. The new job acquisition emphasis resulted in the women not only be able to create their own CVs and email addresses, but also create these for others in their community. While there was visible success with project-based learning, there were still times, such as when getting started using the mouse or windows, where we found ourselves struggling to incorporate a theme into traditional teaching methods to give the women problems to solve together and help us break away from the role of teachers.


As the project changed, so did the value in spending a significant amount of time on computers. Reflecting on the start of our program, we realized that our team, teaching unfamiliar technology that we were highly proficient in, likely caused the co-researchers to feel disempowered in the first few sessions we had with them. We considered what would have happened if we had started the program using cell phones and tried to find ways to incorporate them into our trainings on skills that would help the women obtain jobs. By talking with our co-researchers, we found out that most of the women already use their phones extensively, and that we wouldn’t be able to expand their access to technology through this medium very much. Through these conversations we developed the idea of expanding awareness of access to other types of technology in the community.