‘Peeragogy’ and the Spanish Inquisition

Peer-to-peer learning and elicitive models of education have been on my mind of late. As often happens a couple of highly relevant links popped into my inbox (hat tip to Dwight Towers).

The first is yet another excellent post from FacilitatorU titles “It’s not the Spanish Inquisition” on curiosity and questions. It invites us to be naive and curious in our questions like TV detective Columbo:

“Columbo was an unassuming and seemingly absent-minded character. He dressed in sloppy clothing, drove a dumpy car, smoked a fat cigar, and seemed to ask the most innocent and naive questions, usually in passing. His trademark move was to spin around on his way out the door at the close of an interview, rubbing his brow, saying, “Oh I’m sorry. If you don’t mind, there’s just one more thing that I just don’t understand….” Columbo’s disarming, humble, and innocent attitude, always got him the answers he needed to solve the most difficult cases.

What if you were to navigate via curiosity to help your groups solve their most difficult cases? What, if anything would you have to change in your attitude or approach? Oh, and there’s just one more thing that I’d like to ask. What, if anything would you have to change about the way you see yourself as a group leader?”


The second is Howard Rheingold’s post on the DMLCentral blog “Towards Peeragogy”. Rheingold’s post is set in the world of digital media learning, but translates to other settings. From the outset it grabbed my attention:

“The more I give my teacher-power to students and encourage them to take more responsibility for their own learning, the more they show me how to redesign my ways of teaching.”

Later he continues:

“In retrospect, I can see the coevolution of my learning journey: my first step was to shift from conventional lecture-discussion-test classroom techniques to lessons that incorporated social media, my second step gave students co-teaching power and responsibility, my third step was to elevate students to the status of co-learner. It began to dawn on me that the next step was to explore ways of instigating completely self-organized, peer-to-peer online learning.

The ultimate test of peer learning is to organize a course without the direction of an instructor. Although subject-matter experts and skilled learning facilitators are always a bonus, it is becoming clear that with today’s tools and some understanding of how to go about it, groups of self-directed learners can organize their own courses online”


That’s a big gauntlet to throw down to participatory educators everywhere. As always, feel free to share your successes and struggles here.



2 thoughts on “‘Peeragogy’ and the Spanish Inquisition

  1. Matthew: I think you’ve extracted the key defining quote for peeragogy. Thanks!!

    BTW your reference to Columbo brings to mind Peter Falk’s role in ”Wings of Desire”. That film made it impossible to separate the detective from the angel. If you’ll forgive a further free-wheeling riff, these days it’s impossible for me to separate angel references from Richard P. Gabriel and Garcia Lorca’s distinct takes on ”duende” (see ”Mob Software: The Erotic Life of Code”).

    To speak less in allusions: what we’re doing is not just for ”participatory educators” but for participatory projects in general, where learning is almost always a part of the process. The filmic lens of ”former angels” gives way to real blood, sweat, and tears.

    The quote from Howard Rheingold reads like a dharma talk, preaching the progressive jhannas of freeing the mind. (What freedoms specifically? Are they the freedoms of Richard M. Stallman, or Franklin D. Roosevelt? Or are these so different?) Specifically, freeing the mind from fear of failure, which is a necessary part of working with decentralized control:

    Richard P. Gabriel: «Software is full of failure, and will be until we can learn how truly to build it. Fear of failure is fear of death. In fear of failure, we seek order.»

    • Thanks Joe,

      yours is a powerful sentence:

      freeing the mind from fear of failure, which is a necessary part of working with decentralized control

      No wonder it’s easy to draw parallels with dharma and co-operative, elicitive learning.

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