Research on peer mentoring and action learning

One notable characteristic of peer mentoring referred to in the literature is that it appears to be more symmetric and less reliant on expert knowledge compared to conventional mentoring relationships (Colvin, 2014; de Lange and Lauvas, 2018). Researchers on peer mentoring have also reported several beneficial outcomes, such as fostering mutual exchange, giving the participants a sense of expertise, enhancing empathy and equality, and establishing longitudinal relations - all of which are considered advantages that extend beyond traditional mentoring (Driscoll et ai,2009; Darwin and Palmer, 2009). Research on peer mentoring also underlines its value in terms of freedom of self-expression and the effects of supporting self-regulation, compared to traditional asymmetric relations (DeCastro et a!., 2013). In an extensive literature review, Huizing (2012) noted that mentor roles within groups tend to shift in peer-mentoring practices, which is interesting in terms of how participants learn from assuming different positions. It also appears that mentoring practices are generally organised in a non-hierarchical manner, suggesting that even less experienced participants behave as experts in the group. The findings concerning the positive outcomes of this kind of peer-based arrangement seem to suggest that it contributes considerably to “professional growth benefits to its participants” (Huizing, 2012: 51), with collaborative input being the most valuable for the involved mentees. Among the shortcomings of peer-based approaches is the tendency that peer participants easily get side-tracked during mentoring conversations, such as losing sight of the issues raised by the mentee, conversations losing direction because of unsatisfactory facilitation, and fragility due to dominating personalities directing the group conversations (Huizing, 2012). Given the above-mentioned shortcomings in peer-based mentoring, the research school decided to experiment with action learning as an approach for discussion challenges to doctoral supervision in a non-hierarchical, democratic, and exploratory manner (Pounder, 2009). The main intention with this action learning approach was, therefore, to provide opportunities for supervisors to discuss and possibly solve difficult problems but also to create an arena for mutual reflection about supervision practices in the research school.

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