The development of new skills is fast becoming a requirement in the professional workplace. Take a brief scroll of LinkedIn and you’ll notice that many professionals are already keen to sharpen the tools in their toolbox. Online skills courses, webinars, books and coaching schemes are all lapped up by professionals looking to broaden their range of abilities, for both personal and professional benefit. We’re really excited about this and would encourage everyone to learn as many new skills as they can. However, many of the popular methods of learning are rather one-sided — the student listens to (or reads) the words of the teacher.

Mutual learning is a different way of going about learning new things. In a nutshell, mutual learning involves a relationship between two people, each of whom has a skill that the other would like to learn. In a mutual learning relationship, both people take turns to act as the teacher and the student. We think this is a fantastic way of learning new things, not only because it enables two people to each learn a new skill, but because it can foster strong bonds of friendship and trust between the two learners.

The first, somewhat obvious benefit of mutual learning is that it enables people to learn new skills without having to hire a teacher externally. This is particularly useful for organisations, who can make the most of the people they already employ. By engaging in a program of mutual learning, organisations can improve the skillsets of their staff, while also encouraging more broadly a culture of learning and self-improvement, and meaningful personal relationships in the workplace.

In a mutual learning relationship, a meaningful personal bond can be easily developed. Both people in the relationship share their own knowledge and experiences, allowing them to build a better understanding of their fellow learner. By breaking down the hierarchical barriers that often exist in educational environments, and leaving out monetary transactions, both learners sharetheir skills and experience. This can have similar social benefits to exchanging gifts — both parties feel good about both the act of sharing and the act of receiving, which improves feelings of trust and friendship. Moreover, learning a new skill can be a challenging process. By working through difficulties together and helping each other on their way to mastering their new skills, mutual learners often develop very close friendships. Who wouldn’t want to gain a new friend as well as a new skill?!

It’s becoming more widely recognised that diversity is a great strength for organisations to have, a strength which can be built upon by programmes of mutual learning. Mutual learning is a way to bring together people from different backgrounds in an interesting and beneficial way. Diversity of age is particularly acute in the current workplace, with some organisations home to 5 generations of people. However, there is sometimes limited meaningful contact between people of different ages and it can be difficult to foster meaningful bonds between people who are several generations apart. By setting aside time for mutual learning, older employees could share their wealth of experience and institutional knowledge in exchange for, perhaps, tech shortcuts or even a new language. However, this way of learning does more than just enable people from across a wide age range to learn new things; it fosters deeper emotional connections between them, which otherwise might not have flourished. By nurturing these relationships, mutual learning can encourage friendship and cohesion in the working environment.

We highly recommend mutual learning to any individual or organisation looking to learn new skills. At eSwapp, we facilitate mutual learning and the sharing of skills by matching people who can teach and learn from each other, and share a journey of education and friendship.