A great way to learn is by teaching someone else!
But how does teaching help you learn?
In order to explain something, you will need to retrieve information from your memory and use it – this strengthens and consolidates your knowledge.
You will need to be able to identify all of the important points and explain them clearly, in your own words. Doing so helps clarify the information for you, too.
And when you are trying to explain the information, any confusion or gaps in your knowledge will become apparent. So you will then know what you need to find out more about.
A lot of the benefits of teaching come down to the interactions you have with the person you are teaching.
If the other person doesn’t immediately understand what you have explained, this may be because you have missed an important point. Listen to their questions to try to work out where the gap is.
Another reason they may not understand is if you have used complicated language or jargon – this is often an indication that you do not fully understand the topic yourself. Try to explain using your own words.
It may be that the other person has different prior knowledge or experiences than you. This can be helpful because it helps you see where your own perspective is contributing to your understanding. They may have a different explanation to yours – listening to the other person’s perspective can also enhance your understanding of the topic.
Even preparing to teach someone is helpful, with studies finding benefits when students prepare to teach without actually following through with teaching an actual person.
Preparing to teach can help for the following reasons:
- When thinking about teaching someone, you will think more about how the material is best learned. This increased metacognition enhances your learning.
- You are likely to use more effective strategies when preparing to teach. You may think more about what is key to understanding, and spend time organizing the information.
- Likely questions may occur to you – it will be helpful if you find answers to those.
- You will likely be more motivated to restudy areas that you feel less sure of.
So if you don’t have anyone to teach, or don’t have the time or inclination to teach a real person, it can still be worthwhile preparing as if you were going to teach, or even pretending that you are teaching.
When and how to learn by teaching
Lachner, Hoogerheide, van Gog & Renkl published some research in 2021 1“Learning-by-Teaching Without Audience Presence or Interaction: When and Why Does it Work?” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10648-021-09643-4 in which they discuss how learning by teaching works best. They advise that:
- learning by teaching works best when learning complex conceptual information rather than more basic information.
- explaining out loud works better than writing.
- you should explain from memory rather than having materials available to rely on.
- it is best to prepare first, with the expectation that you will teach.
- reviewing the material again after teaching is important because you will then be more aware of the things you are less clear about, so can try to clarify those during your review.