Peer Support in Research Capacity Development

Monday, 28 July 2014: 7:20 AM

Gisela H. Van Rensburg, DLittetPhil
Department of Health Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


The purpose of the presentation is to provide educators with information that could facilitate peer support to enhance research capacity development. Peer support could contribute to an enriching learning environment within which students’ and researchers’ experiences and potential are enriched.     


This presentation addresses an objective that is part of a larger study that focuses on innovative support strategies to enhance postgraduate research capacity. A qualitative approach was used to explore the peer support practices of postgraduate students at a distance learning institution. Data were collected from two samples of postgraduate students using semi-structured narrative essays. The eight steps suggested by Tesch were used to analyse the data. The data obtained is discussed within the specific context of an open distance learning environment.


The results provided significant insights into the value of peer support as a strategy to develop research capacity. The findings pointed to the mutual support and thus participative learning that peer support provides. Both formal and informal peer support encourage critical reflection on their research capacity and assist in addressing shortcomings and hidden assumptions. Peer support could be both direct and indirect, providing various opportunities to develop as researchers in a safe environment.


The recommendations include the use of peer support in diverse groups of postgraduate students in an open distance learning context. Peer support could offer a type of support that is not necessarily part of the open distance learning context. It may address some of the issues experienced in such a context by alleviating the feeling of ‘distance’ and ‘aloneness’ when doing postgraduate studies at an open distance learning institution.