Keeping Up With... Peer Tutoring


This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Monica Gingerich.

Monica Gingerich is Coordinator for Student Experience and Engagement at Penn State University, email:


Peer tutoring is an instructional practice that involves a student tutor teaching a skill or supporting a student tutee through a task. There are different methods of peer tutoring, including models that have one person serving primarily as the tutor and the other primarily as the tutee. Other models have two or more people sharing knowledge and skills cooperatively. Students should be trained and guided through the tutoring process in order for this learning model to be effective. Peer tutoring can occur in any discipline and at a range of ages or educational levels. Peer learning theory and peer assisted learning strategies are other terms often used to describe this practice.

Why Peer Tutoring?

There are proven benefits for both tutors and tutees alike in peer tutoring models. When peers act as guides or mentors in the learning process, students may feel more comfortable and experience fewer barriers in their learning journey[1]. Not only can peer tutoring help in supporting academic skills and success, [2] it also provides skill building that can be applied to professional settings. Both hard and soft skills, can be developed for both tutors and tutees by way of a peer learning model.[3] Overall, this practice can foster a sense of belonging as tutors and tutees form relationships with their peers. In The Rowman & Littlefield Guide to Learning Center Administration, peer tutoring is identified as a High Impact Practice for students and thus a great way to foster student engagement.[4] In fact, depending on how peer tutoring programs are run, several High Impact Practices could be incorporated into an engaged learning experience for students, such as working in a collaborative learning environment and creating common intellectual experiences through the research process.

Peer Tutoring in Student Research

Peer tutoring in student research is a natural fit for academic libraries to provide to their campus communities. These tutors are often referred to as peer research consultants. In practice, this service can look like formal reference consultations, casual reference inquiries, or can be built into specific course-related research projects. These interactions could take place in person or virtually. Training research consultants: a guide for academic libraries[5] provides over a dozen case studies, emphasizing how peer tutoring services in student research can be successful in a variety of models and instructional environments.

When developing a plan for a peer student research tutoring service, some areas to consider include:

  • Target audience for receiving services (undergraduate, graduate)
  • Clear scope of what research peer tutors will cover, and the scope of research other library faculty and staff will cover
  • Plans and staffing for training and supervising peer tutors
  • Identifying a schedule for peer tutoring availability
  • Mode for provision of service (in person, virtual)
  • Data collection planning
  • Service evaluation and assessment planning

Peer Tutoring in Academic Libraries

As outlined above, academic libraries can design and develop their own peer research tutoring services. One strategy for beginning this work is partnering with complementary tutoring programs on campus. Although peer tutoring can occur in any discipline, many academic libraries partner with their campus writing centers as writing and research are a recursive process. Often the library is a centralized location for academic campuses and is a much sought after space by students and faculty or staff alike. Forming partnerships with other departments and colleges on campus to bring peer tutoring services to the physical library space is an excellent way to support these programs. Academic libraries can also provide robust virtual spaces to host peer tutoring services. This could look like a direct reference chat or a form to receive research assistance in a less immediate time frame. They can also partner by marketing and promoting partner tutoring programs in library spaces and through instructional efforts.

An example of how peer tutoring in a student research program can look in an academic library can be found at Penn State University. Here, at the University Park campus in Pattee/Paterno Library, is an undergraduate peer tutoring hub known as the Search Bar. The Search Bar is staffed by a Peer Research Consultant as well as a Peer Writing Tutor. This is a collaboration between Penn State Libraries and Penn State Learning. Although the Writing Center and the peer tutoring in research program are run separately, members from each respective unit work together to provide shared training sessions for all peer tutors a few times a semester, and work together to promote, improve, and assess Search Bar services. Tutors are encouraged to work jointly with a tutee when a student requires both writing and research support, either in a single session or by referral to the other service.


Peer tutoring supports both student tutors and tutees in reaching their academic goals. Creating a low stakes environment for students to practice and apply newly acquired skills and strategies contributes to student success in higher education. Academic libraries can play an integral role in offering and supporting peer tutoring services at their campuses.


[1] O’Kelly, Mary, Julie Garrison, Brian Merry, and Jennifer Torreano.. 2015. "Building a Peer-Learning Service for Students in an Academic Library." portal:Libraries and the Academy. 15 (1): 163-182.

[2] Grillo, Michael C. and Cathy W. Leist. 2013. "Academic Support as a Predictor of Retention to Graduation: New Insights on the Role of Tutoring, Learning Assistance, and Supplemental Instruction." Journal of College Student Retention : Research, Theory & Practice 15 (3): 387-408.

[3] Clark, Karlene and Avery Breiland. 2023. "'I Want My PRC:' Engagement of Undergraduates with and Assessment of the Peer Research Consultant Program." Reference Services Review. 51 (2): 190-204.

[4] Sanford, Daniel R and Michelle Steiner. 2021. The Rowman & Littlefield Guide to Learning Center Administration: Leading Peer Tutoring Programs in Higher Education. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

[5] Torreano, Jennifer and Mary O'Kelly. 2021. Training Research Consultants : A Guide for Academic Libraries. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Further Reading

Epstein, Maglen Bridget Draxler. 2021. How to Be a Peer Research Consultant : A Guide for Librarians and Students. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Hornby, Garry and Deborah Greaves. 2022. Essential Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies: Ensuring Optimal Academic Achievement for Students. Cham: Springer.

Jackson, Holly A. 2020. Sharing Spaces and Students: Employing Students in Collaborative Partnerships. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Sanford, Daniel R. 2021. The Rowman & Littlefield Guide for Peer Tutors. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Topping, Keith J. 2017. Effective Peer Learning: From Principles to Practical Implementation. New York: Routledge.