Exploring the Benefits of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL): an evaluation of University undergraduate PAL schemes

Posted in: Case Studies


Peer support, comprising peer mentoring and peer assisted learning (PAL), is an important component of HE and thus contributes to the University’s Education objectives. Our investment in PAL is significant, especially where it is essential for professional accreditation. There has been very little research within our institution as to the advantages of PAL and the steps we can take to improve it.

This project aimed to define the benefits of PAL and produce guidelines promoting successful PAL schemes with maximal student engagement. We used a qualitative approach to evaluate the perceived benefits from attendees across a range of PAL schemes at the University of Bath. Qualitative data obtained through SAMIS evaluations and focus groups, were used to assess the overall benefits of PAL, learn more about the key criteria required for successful schemes and identify effective strategies which promote engagement and inclusivity. PAL attendance and student grades will provide quantitative data to assess the impact of PAL on academic performance

Guidance produced through this project, together with a summary of accompanying benefits, will be available on peer support webpages hosted through the Students’ Union (SU). These will enable PAL to develop across our institution and enhance the student experience.  

Project Team

Dr Julie Letchford (Pharmacy and Pharmacology): j.a.letchford@bath.ac.uk

Mr Oliver Schofield (Students’)

Miss Jordan Troup (Psychology)

Aims & Rationale

Peer learning is becoming an increasingly important component of HE. In these schemes, trained higher year students supplement core teaching and facilitate student learning in the lower years. These schemes have been successfully utilised at several universities and have proved very valuable to both the leaders and their peers (1-4). For example, leaders have stated that they acquired higher-level personal (empathy, confidence) and professional skills (communication, organisation, leadership, decision-making and teamwork skills) in addition to learning more about a subject area. Supported students have expressed improved academic confidence, independent learning and deeper understanding. Furthermore, PAL has been shown to increase assessment grades, reduce the number of fails and increase retention rates, though further exploration is needed in this area. (5)

In our institution, peer support activities such PAL and Peer Mentoring contribute to the University’s Education Objectives. Schemes are student-led, discipline-owned and centrally coordinated through the SU. Over the years there has been a huge demand for peer support related activities and to date, over 800 students are actively involved as mentors or PAL Leaders, supporting over 4000 students.

There has been very little research into the advantages of PAL within our institution and the steps we can take to improve it. This project enabled us to assess the benefits of PAL and identify successful strategies to promote engagement and inclusivity and ensure the service is being used to its full potential.

The project included all three types of PAL scheme operating throughout the University; unit PAL, programme PAL and placement PAL. By exploring these different schemes. The project aimed to:

  • Assess the benefits of PAL attendees
  • Identify successful approaches for PAL schemes
  • Identify strategies to promote engagement and inclusivity
  1. Fostier, M and Carey C. 2007
  2. Hammond, J.A., Bithell, C.P., Jones, L., Bidgood. P 2010.  Active Learning in Higher Education 11(3) 201–212. http://alh.sagepub.com/content/11/3/201.refs
  3. Keenan, C. 2014. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Peer_led_learning_Keenan_Nov_14-final.pdf
  4. Topping, K.T. 2005 Trends in peer learning.Educational Psychology 25(6): 631–645 http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/Universitaet/Einrichtungen/SLK/peer_learning/pal/pdf/trends_in_peer_learning.pdf
  5. Dawson, P., van der Meer, J., Skalicky, J., Cowley, K.. 2014. Review of Educational Research 84 (4), pp. 609–639


  • Documented evidence on the benefits of PAL at the University of Bath (Paper/Report). Student responses in focus groups were qualitatively analysed to provide an in-depth insight into the key benefits of PAL, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the schemes.
  • Statistical analysis to assess the impact of the Pharmacy unit PAL schemes on academic performance.
  • Guidelines for successful PAL schemes with optimal student engagement across the institution. These provide advice for staff and PAL student leaders, and are intended to improve existing schemes and direct new schemes. These will be made available on the Students’ Union website by October 2016.
  • Improved PAL schemes: Results have also contributed to an online toolkit for all involved in PAL schemes across the University.
  • Results and guidelines have been disseminated internally at the Exchange conference (2016) and at PAL staff meetings, and externally at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education conference (Edinburgh 2016). Findings have thus contributed to national PAL research.
  • Findings will complement and enrich existing training for PAL leaders and inform staff members on how best to support their leaders and their schemes in general.

Posted in: Case Studies