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Gender matters: Students’ perceptions of peer learning in clinical education

Joanna Tai, Benedict Canny, Elizabeth Molloy, Terry Haines


Introduction: Peer-assisted learning (PAL) is an increasingly used learning method, with demonstrated equivalence to conventional teaching methods in students’ knowledge and skill gain. Despite this, student satisfaction with PAL is varied. There are few investigations of gender as a factor influencing students’ perceptions of peer-assisted learning, and less is known about gender’s impact on participation in PAL.

Methods: This study investigated the influence of gender on students’ attitudes towards, and participation in, PAL activities. One hundred ninety-one students in their first clinical year completed a self-report questionnaire over a 3-year period. The questionnaire included questions on engagement in specific PAL activities and the advantages and disadvantages of PAL.

Results: Male and female students reported similar participation rates in PAL activities. Female students were more likely to report that observing others undertake a history or examination was useful to their learning. Female students were also more likely to report that PAL provided a “safe” learning environment, allowing them to take more time, let down their guard and ask questions.

Conclusions: Variation in students’ attitudes when introducing PAL activities may affect their uptake. Gender is unlikely to be the sole factor affecting perceptions of PAL, but it may have an impact on readiness to engage and patterns of engagement. The perceived relative safety of PAL identified in this study, when contrasted to recent reports of bullying and harassment within medical training in Australia, may suggest that educating clinicians and students on the role of PAL could result in safer learning environments and improve learner experiences.


Peer-assisted learning; gender; clinical education

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