Wednesday 12 October 2016

Learning by Teaching

The best way for someone to really learn something, is for them to teach others.

Heidi teaching
“While we teach, we learn,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca.

Students enlisted to teach others, research has found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. Student teachers score higher on tests than students who are learning only for themselves.Scientists call it “the protégé effect”.

“When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information,” says John Nestojko, a researcher in psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

This is true not just for students in a classroom. If you are an expert in an activity or process, you probably have in your head a set of working practices and assumptions and heuristics about how best to perform the activity or process, but it is not until you have to explain these to someone else that you have to sift through them, decide what’s really important, and actually make sense of it all.  You learn what you already know, by teaching others.

At Knoco, we use this principle all the time in Knowledge Management.

  • Rather than asking retiring experts to write down their best practices, we ask them to teach a younger employee, and ask that younger employee to do the documentation; to write the wiki or the guidance material. This is a double "learning by teaching" - the expert crystallises their knowledge through teaching the younger person, and the younger person crystallises their knowledge by creating guidance material for others. The retiree can then check the documented knowledge for accuracy. This is a process we call dedicated learning.
  • Rather than asking people to write down lessons, we discuss them as a team, and decide how we will draft thosee lessons in order to be able to teach others, based on what we have learned.
  • When those lessons are captured, we hold a knowledge handover to allow the next level of teaching, and to get the next level of detail.

Without that teaching step, it can be hard to get to the real, detailed and valuable knowledge

As the atomic scientist Frank Oppenheimer is reported to have said

“the best way to learn is to teach, the best way to teach is to keep learning, and that what counts in the end is having had a shared, reflected experience.”

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