Connecting the Classroom: Benefits of Peer Education

Classroom Connection  As a future sexuality educator, I want to use every resource possible to engage and connect students with the material. Even the most detailed lesson plans cannot be considered effective if students are not engaged (Ramseyer Winter, 2013). Utilizing peer educators for sexuality education may be an instrumental choice to maximize student interest and build positive interactions with the material. By developing programs that include components involving peer-education, benefits can be reaped not only by the students, but by the peer educator and the teacher as well.

As Teachers We Must:

  • Choose peer educators that are interested in the material and understand the goals/objectives of the course
  • Choose peer educators that are the most relatable to the students in the class
  • Allow time to answer any questions the peer educator may have
  • Understand that you are taking on an additional role as mentor for the peer educator and that you are not getting a ‘break’
  • Utilize peer educators to help evaluate a program and listen to their suggestions (remember they were more recently in those seats and may see something in the classroom that you don’t)

Benefits to Students

Studies show that adolescents are twice as likely to use condoms when they believe their peers are using condoms (DiClemente, 1991). Peer educators are able impact the classroom differently than teachers by helping to create and build positive group norms and dispel sexual health myths for students (Mason, 2003). When teachers use peer educators in the classroom, they are creating a more open and comfortable learning environment (Burke & Sass, 2011). The learning environment directly effects how much information a student will retain and effects general receptiveness of the class (Ramseyer Winter, 2013). When topics in human sexuality are taught by a messenger that is relatable, students are more likely to personalize the information which increases the chance of behavior change (Demairo, Dischell & Jouthe, 2008). In sexuality education, this approach has potential to significantly impact adolescents, who are at a stage where they value the opinions of their peers more than anyone else (Pressley & McCormick, 2007).

Choosing appropriate peer-educators that demonstrate maturity and an understanding of the goals and objectives of the course is essential. Peer education attributes a majority of its effectiveness to the audience being able to identify with the educator, so it is important to utilize educators that may represent the target audience (Cupples, Zukoski, Dierwechter, 2010). Although this may not always be possible (financially or availability-wise), the more closely an audience can associate with the peer educator, the more effective and successful that educational program may be. For example, using a female peer-educator for a female-only program on pregnancy prevention will be more effective than using a male peer-educator. For a co-ed class, it would be best to use both male and female educators (Hampton, Fahlman, Goertzen & Jeffery, 2005).

ConnectionsBenefits to Peer Educators

Though we should focus on the benefits to students, it is important to keep in mind how the peer educators themselves are affected. Peer educators have the opportunity to learn just as much as those they are teaching (Wilson & Arendale, 2011). One of the many benefits of peer-led education is that the peer educators gain knowledge and confidence (Hampton, Fahlman, Goertzen & Jeffery, 2005). Peer Educators also gain direct classroom experience and improve their own ability to problem-solve (Ramseyer Winter, 2013). It is important for teachers to stay engaged with the attitudes of the peer educators because both positive and negative attitudes can impact the classroom environment (Wilson & Arendale, 2011). To ensure both teacher and peer-educator are on the same page it is important for the teacher to maintain positive communication, give constant feedback and allow time for the peer-educator to ask questions (Wilson & Arendale, 2011).

Motivation and encouragement from the teachers can considerably impact the peer educators feelings and attitudes, which in turn impacts the students. Students are very intuitive so when the peer-educator is displaying confidence and excitement in the material, it correlates to the moods and attitudes of the students (Norman, 1999). Communication between teacher and peer educator help him/her develop professional skills, a better understanding of the classroom, and a deeper view into the role of the teacher (Wilson & Arendale, 2011).

Benefits to Teachers

Although peer educators should not be used to substitute an entire curriculum, peer-led education is an effective addition to a teacher-led curriculum (Demairo, Dischell & Jouthe, 2008). On top of creating a more comfortable learning environment, peer educators can assist teachers in creating more effective lessons. When developing or evaluating a program, it is highly beneficial to utilize the experience of peer-educators to tailor and clarify educational programs and lessons (Norman, 1999). Understanding what material wasn’t clear or what they would have found beneficial as students in the classroom can help improve the lesson or redirect a class discussion. Although teachers need to have their lesson plans clearly outlined ahead of time, peer-educators can help identify which activities were the most beneficial or fun for students and which ones may be altered to be more successful (Wilson & Arendale, 2011).

Incorporating a peer-led component into your sexual education lesson will improve students’ likelihood of increasing their self-efficacy to make healthier decisions and increase their chances of changing unhealthy behaviors (Cupples, Zukoski, Dierwechter, 2010). Peer educators gain confidence and knowledge while teaching and develop professional skills through contact with the teacher. The teacher of the course gains insight to attitudes in the class and the opportunity to continue the curriculum in a more comfortable and open environment. Overall, if used effectively, peer educators can maximize classroom-learning on all levels.



Burke, M. A., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Classroom peer effects and student achievement.. Research Review, (16), 3-6.

Demairo, P., Dischell, J., & Jouthe, S. A. (2008). The teen outreach reproductive challenge: Improving adolescent health care delivery through peer education projects. American Journal Of Sexuality Education, 3(1), 1-17.

DiClemente, R.J. (1991). Predictors of HIV-preventative sexual behavior in a high-risk adolescent population: The influence of perceived peer norms and sexual communication on incarcerated adolescents’ consistent use of condoms. Journal of Adolescent Health,12(5),385-390.

Cupples, J. B., Zukoski, A. P., & Dierwechter, T. (2010). Reaching young men: Lessons learned in the recruitment, training, and utilization of male peer sexual health educators. Health Promotion Practice, 11(3S), 19S-25S.

Hampton, M., Fahlman, S. A., Goertzen, J. R., & Jeffery, B. L. (2005). A Process evaluation of the youth educating about health (year) program: A peer-designed and peer-led sexual health education program. Canadian Journal Of Human Sexuality, 14(3/4), 129-141.

Mason, H. (2003, January 1). Peer education: Promoting healthy behaviors. Retrieved February 28, 2015, from

Norman, J. (1999). Peer sexuality education. Social Policy, 30(1), 30.

Pressley, M., & McCormick, C. (2007). Psychosocial Stages of Development. In Child and adolescent development for educators (pp. 145-151). New York: The Guilford Press.

Ramseyer Winter, M. V. (2013). Diffusion of innovations theory: A unifying framework for HIV peer education. American Journal Of Sexuality Education, 8(4), 228-245.

Wilson, W. L., & Arendale, D. R. (2011). Peer educators in learning assistance programs: Best practices for new programs. New Directions For Student Services, (133), 41-53.

DiClemente, R.J. (1991). Predictors of HIV-preventative sexual behavior in a high-risk adolescent population: The influence of perceived peer norms and sexual communication on incarcerated adolescents’ consistent use of condoms. Journal of Adolescent Health,12(5),385-390.

10 responses to “Connecting the Classroom: Benefits of Peer Education

    • Thanks for the resource recommendation. Looks like the closest Teen Council is in Massachusetts but they offer help implementing Teen Councils elsewhere which would be amazing. I downloaded the free Teen Council Lesson Plan and Information packet and plan to look into this further. Thank you!

  1. Megan, great job! I enjoyed your note on considering who the peer educator should be for a teen pregnancy workshop/class; I think other the same thought can be utilized when thinking about ethic groups, LGBTQA status, and physical abilities. Awareness of how privilege and cultural differences play into perception of both the peer educator and the instructor could also increase the likelihood of peer education being successful.

  2. I have always loved the idea of peer education, especially when it comes to human sexuality, so it was awesome to see all sorts of articles and references that back up my affinity towards them. I especially liked how you specifically pointed out the benefits to each group of people. In the past, I had considered the benefit to the teachers and students but not the peer educators themselves. I think the one thing to be weary of is that one can never be sure what a young, inexperienced person might accidentally say in class (or the situations they may not be able to finesse their way out of yet), but I totally agree that overall the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
    Thanks for providing thoughts (and references) that I’m sure I’ll be using over the course of my teaching career.

  3. I truly am a believer of peer education and have seen the benefits in clinical settings but had not considered this for educational settings. However the thought of bringing peer education into the sexuality classroom is a great approach. This would provide a nice alternative to Pam Stenzel and her scare tactic.

  4. I agree that students can relate more to a peer than a teacher. When they have one of their peers in front of the room talking about barrier methods and how he uses condoms himself with his partner, then the students’ will take note and hopefully use condoms themselves. Nice job!

  5. Hi Megan, Your article was very succinct and to the point. I liked how you separated out the benefits for all three parties involved. I also appreciated you remember to advise instructors to make peer education a part of their curriculum and not their whole curriculum. Dr. Green spoke about peer educators on the day we did our presentations. He brought up a good point saying that choosing the right peer educator is important – he said that finding someone who is comfortable discussing sexuality is ultimately more important than relatability. I guess that means that choosing a peer educator who is also comfortable discussing sexuality is the best of both worlds. I find your advice for teachers to take the suggestions of their students very useful. Teachers can sometimes forget that students can made helpful suggestions about content and instruction.

  6. I LOVE THIS! I’m a huge fan of peer education so reading this article was really awesome for me. When I was in my undergrad I always talked about the importance of peer education. I actually never read an article or did research about it, I just knew that peer education was extremely valuable, especially for sensitive/difficult topics. But reading this detailed, well-researched article was great! I always talk about “informal peer education”, which to me basically refers to the responsibility that we all have to educate our peers. The most insignificant conversations can have the biggest impact. That’s why I always advocate for speaking up/educating friends in the face of injustice because people are so much more likely to be persuaded by people that are relatable to them. Great article!

  7. Megan, this is a great article. Like the commenters above, I am a huge advocate of peer education but it is so often poorly implemented. I think the point that you bring up about acting as a mentor for the peer educator is an incredibly important one. What we as educators need to remember is that peer educators, however talented they may be, are often young and seeking guidance themselves. While they may feel empowered by being asked to educate their peers, they may also feel frightened and overwhelmed at the prospect. By honoring their contribution to the educational process and also being there as a mentor, facilitators can support these peer educators in their journey. If facilitators keep that in mind, peer education can be a powerful tool. Thanks so much for a really thorough article!

  8. Megan,
    This was truly a wonderful read. I’m most definitely an advocate for peer education as long as the educators are providing accurate information. As Armani mentioned above, I too often think about the importance of informal peer education. I recall learning so much of what I knew about sex from discussion with my friends. The information was not always accurate and therefore, we could have benefited greatly from formally appointed peer educators!
    So many students can benefit from peer education and the references you utilized only further prove this. Thanks for this information–I am looking forward to implementing your suggestions in a classroom one day.

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