Peer Education Theory

 

The main goal of most peer education activities is to change attitudes and behaviours that may be hindering young people’s own and other’s well-being. But the question is why and how young people change?

The fields of psychology, pedagogy and health have given us important theories which shed some light into the subject and how peer education plays an important role. The “Training of Trainers Manual in Peer Education” published by a UN’s sub-committee on Peer Education mentions a few important theories.


THEORY OF REASONED ACTION

This theory states that the intention of a person to adopt a recommended behaviour is determined by:

• the person’s attitudes towards this behaviour and his or her beliefs about the consequences of the behaviour. For example, a young woman who thinks that using contraception will have positive results for her, will have a positive attitude towards contraceptive use; and

• the person’s subjective (a person’s personal viewpoint about an issue) and normative (that which is the norm or the standard in their society or group beliefs) based on what others think he or she should do, and whether important individuals approve or disapprove the behaviour.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

…this concept is relevant considering that:

• young people’s attitudes are highly influenced by their perception of what their peers do and think;

and

• young people may be highly motivated by the expectations of respected peer educators. If such expectations are associated to behaviours that lead to well-being, then there are higher chances for behaviour to change.


SOCIAL LEARNING/SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY

This theory is largely based upon the work of psychologist Albert Bandura 1 . He states that people learn:

• indirectly, by observing and modelling on others with whom the person identifies (for example, how young people see their peers behaving); and

• through training in skills that lead to confidence in being able to carry out behaviour. This specific condition is called self-efficacy, which includes the ability to overcome any barriers to performing the behaviour. For example, confronting discrimination or bullying at school.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

this means that the selected peer educators should be trustworthy and credible opinion leaders within the group they are working with. The opinion leaders’ role as educators is especially important in outreach work, where the target audience is not reached through formally planned activities but through everyday social contacts..


DIFFUSION OF INNOVATIONS THEORY

This theory argues that social influence plays an important role in behaviour change. The role of opinion leaders in a community, acting as agents for behaviour change, is a key element of this theory.

Their influence on group norms or customs is predominantly seen as a result of person-to-person exchanges and discussions.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

this means that the inclusion of interactive experimental learning activities are extremely important, and peer educators can be important role models.


THEORY OF PARTICIPATORY EDUCATION

This theory claims that empowerment and a full participation of the people affected by a given problem is a key to behaviour change.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

the relevance of this theory is obvious: many advocates of peer education claim that the (horizontal) process of peers talking among themselves and determining a course of action is a key to the success of a peer education project.


HEALTH BELIEF MODEL

The health belief model was developed in the early 1950s by social psychologists Godfrey Hochbaum, Stephen Kegels and Irwin Rosenstock. It was used to explain and predict health behaviour, mainly through perceived susceptibility, perceived barriers and perceived benefits.

This model suggests that if a person has a desire to avoid illness or to get well (value) and the belief that a specific health action would prevent illness (expectancy), then a positive behavioural action would be taken towards that behaviour. Unfortunately, this model of behaviour change does not sufficiently take into account things like habits, attitudes and emotions. So, although the model is useful, the effects of a number of factors on behaviour (culture, social influence, socio-economic status, personal experiences, etc.) need to be considered if the model is to be integrated into peer education work.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

…the health belief model’s most relevant concept is that of perceived barriers, or a person’s opinion of the tangible and psychological costs of the advised action. In this regard, a peer educator could reduce perceived barriers through reassurance, correction of misinformation, incentives and assistance.


IMBR MODEL: INFORMATION, MOTIVATION, BEHAVIOURAL SKILLS AND RESOURCES

The IMBR model, an adapted model upon which much of this manual is based, addresses health-related behaviour in a way that is comprehensive and clear and that can be applied to and across different cultures. It focuses largely on the information (the ‘what’), the motivation (the ‘why’), the behavioural skills (the ‘how’) and the resources (the ‘where’) that can be used to target risky behaviour. For example, in peer education on sexual health, if a young man knows that using condoms properly may prevent the spread of HIV, he may be motivated to use them and know how to employ them correctly, but he may not be able to purchase or find them. This is why the concept of resources was added to the model.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

a programme that does not have a comprehensive approach including all four IMBR concepts probably lacks essential components for reducing risk behaviour and promoting healthier life-styles. A programme might, for example, explain to young people the need for contraception and describe contraceptive methods, but might omit demonstrating their proper use. Participants would then be informed about what to do but not how to do it. Other programmes might inform participants of the what and the how of certain healthy behaviours, but not give them strong emotional or intellectual reasons as to why they would want to practise such behaviours. Although resources can be considered part of ‘information’, it is important to provide young people with information about where to access appropriate resources or services beyond the scope of peer education sessions


Whether you are providing training of trainers (ToT), training of peer educators, or peer education sessions with the target population, there are some basic methodological considerations for translating the theory into practice. Most important are learning based on experience and observation (experiential learning), and use of interactive methodologies and of drama.

 

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

There is an ancient proverb that says: Tell me… I forget, show me… I remember, involve me… I understand. ‘Involving’ the participants in a training workshop in an active way that incorporates their own experience is essential. Such experiential learning gives the trainees an opportunity to begin developing their skills with immediate feedback. It also gives them the opportunity to participate in many of the training exercises and techniques firsthand, before they engage other peer educator trainees in such exercises. The training of trainers proposed in this manual is based upon an experiential learning model, using highly interactive techniques.

The model includes four elements: direct experience (an activity in which learners create an experience), reflection on the experience, generalization (lessons learned) and applying lessons learned.

 

(MODEL HERE)


THEORY OF PARTICIPATION23

The Theory of Participatory Education has also been important in the development of peer education (Freire, 1970). Empowerment, in the Freirian sense, results through the full participation of the people affected by a given problem or condition. Through such dialogue the affected community collectively plans and implements a response to the problem condition in question.

IN THE CONTEXT OF PEER EDUCATION…

Many advocates of peer education claim that this horizontal process of peers (equals) talking among themselves and determining a course of action is key to the impact of peer education on behavioural change.

 


2 Freire P. 1970/1993. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin: London.

3 Freire P. 1973. Education for Critical Consciousness. Continnum: New York.


The European Peer Training Organisation educates and supports young people to lead activities with their peers that challenge sterotypes and combat ALL forms of discrimination.
To know more visit www.epto.org