The aim of this research was to design an effective structure for peer learning within a conservatoire setting. A semi-structured environment was created that involved self-regulated learning by asking students to formulate goals and strategies and to document and reflect on their process. The expectation was that the ‘Learning Pods’ experience would have a positive effect on motivation as well as confidence, self-efficacy and performance experience, and this was found to be the case. 

The success of the Learning Pods had several likely reasons. The participants were volunteers (CCPod) or recruited from the Quality Practice elective (PPPod) so were all already highly intrinsically motivated. The Pods structure was deliberately designed to enhance motivation as it involved autonomy – the participants had to steer their own process – as well as asking for both individual and group goals, and involved connectedness. An added ingredient was that due to Corona lockdowns, the participants were eager to be with other people again. The structure provided opportunities to develop self-regulated learning and meta cognitive learning (learning about learning). Participants responded to being challenged and being out of their comfort zone – for instance by putting themselves in a vulnerable position by sharing weaknesses and problems and playing pieces that were still in progress, or by trying new genres and ways of making music and by being experimental. Such challenges can result not only in more confidence and learning but also change in a person’s self-beliefs.

Crucial elements of peer-learning include having or finding shared goals and having a safe space to explore them. The researchers believe that if the timeframe is not too short or too long, the participants stay engaged. Meeting over four to five weeks seemed to work well. The group size needs to fit the time and space and topic to make sure everyone has a space in each session. Because of the limited number of sessions and to have a true group feeling, attendance should be compulsory. Knowing how to give and receive feedback well is an art that needs practice so instruction on how to do this is recommended.

Peer-learning is all about connectedness. Sharing goals, ideas and strategies, using each other as sounding boards, learning social skills and how to get on with others who are different from oneself, developing empathy and finding support.

In the opinion of the researchers as well as all participants, there is a strong case for offering structured peer-learning opportunities for every student within a conservatoire and these can be applied to all types of themes. Interdepartmental learning structures are needed – most students at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague are unaware of what their peers in other departments are doing, how they work and think about artistic processes. 

In a field where connection and communication are vital, we need to move away from the traditional “private teaching, private learning” approach and facilitate young musicians to become more confident, autonomous, self-regulated and connected: to own and innovate their own learning processes through finding connections and shared goals with their peers. 

A final word from the researchers

A jazz drummer and natural trumpet player is an unlikely collaboration, but – like our own participants – we experienced that going beneath the surface and finding a common goal brought realisations that we had a lot in common as well as useful contrasting skills for research collaboration. Again, like our participants we were surprised at how harmonious, enjoyable and energetic our process was. 

It must be said that although the commitment, energy, and engagement of participants in both pods showed considerable intrinsic motivation, it was probably (heavily) influenced by the energy and enthusiasm of the researchers. We were far from unbiased about our belief that this kind of project would positively affect student musicians and the participants no doubt picked this up. Having said this, we were both surprised at the positivity, strength, and richness of the reactions. Being trapped in lockdown and semi-lockdown conditions leading up to the projects surely contributed to the participants’ joy of collaborating live with their peers, and their willingness and ability to deal with long online group workshops was commendable.