M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
We’ve all been there.
“I hate this topic! I don’t understand it and I’m never going to! And even if I did, how am I supposed to remember this anyway, huh?”
Learning is hard work at the best of times and crushingly frustrating at the worst. It’s easy to feel stupid or embarrassed when tackling new topics or skills. Before long you’ve convinced yourself you’re “just bad at this kind of stuff”. Or worse, you grow to fear or hate learning entirely.
But what if I told you there was a simpler and faster way to learn anything? A technique used by geniuses like Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to master tricky topics quickly and easily?
Perhaps you’d feel sceptical. But I bet you’d also be curious. Maybe even excited. Wouldn’t it feel great to finally say, “Aha! I get it! Not only is this not so bad, it might even be something I’m good at!”
So what’s the trick to mastering things faster? It turns out the secret to good learning is good teaching. But not just as something to find. And not even as something to do after you’ve learned everything. The secret to learning is to teach while you learn, no matter what level you’re at.
Feeling curious? Let’s find out more…
IS LEARNING THROUGH TEACHING RIGHT FOR ME?
Perhaps you’re a student preparing for a test. Perhaps you’re learning a new professional skill. Or maybe you’ve found a new hobby. Whoever you are, whatever you’re learning – learning through teaching is a valuable skill you should master.
In fact, the value of teaching as a learning technique has been known for some time. “When we teach, we learn”, said Seneca the Younger 2,000 years ago. And he was right.
Here are just some of the rewards learning through teaching can offer:
- It tests recall and improves memory;
- It forces you to organise and synthesise your knowledge;
- It helps you identify specific gaps you can work on; and
- It makes learning practical, rewarding and meaningful.
But the best part is you don’t need to even teach a real person to benefit.
In fact, you can start right here, right now with only your mind, a pen and some paper.
THE 7 SIMPLE STEPS TO LEARNING THROUGH TEACHING
But how? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the 7 simple steps to unlock this powerful learning technique:
1. Pick a topic and list everything you don’t know about it.
Break the topic down into concepts – like the parts of a giant machine.
The goal is to identify parts you can take out and examine till you see how they all fit together.
Keep adding parts to your list as you discover more things you don’t know!
2. Pick one concept from your list and write it at the top of a blank page.
We’ll pull it apart shortly.
To warm up, take a second sheet of paper and quickly mind map everything you know about it. Use only your memory at first. This will challenge your recall and delay forgetting.
Once your head is empty, use your notes to complete any obvious blanks.
3. Imagine teaching what you know about the concept as quickly and simply as possible.
For this exercise, it often helps to think of a specific person you actually know.
It could be a cousin, a niece, a classmate, a colleague or friend. Visualise talking to them as you write your explanation. What questions would they ask? When would you lose their attention? How does this concept relate to their world and their lives?
For an extra challenge, bring the topic to life for a room full of imaginary students.
If you can, actually find a room with an empty whiteboard to practice in. Would you find your own explanation engaging, understandable and interesting?
4. Identify clearly and specifically the ideas you have trouble explaining.
As you go through step 3 the gaps in your knowledge should be clear.
Where did you struggle? What did you forget? Where did detail bog you down? Make a note of everything that feels hard as you go through your explanation. Then…
5. Relearn those ideas, explore other ways of explaining them and repeat step 2 and step 3.
With your hit list in hand, revisit the specific ideas you struggled with.
Go back to your textbooks. Turn to Google. Ask a teacher, mentor or colleague to explain the specific idea from a different angle in their own words.
Feeling more confident? Head back to step 2 and step 3.
6. Simplify your explanation even further using simple words and analogies.
By step 6, you should feel pretty good about your explanation.
Congratulations! Now challenge yourself to make it even simpler.
Imagine a classroom filled with non-native speakers. Use fewer words. Make those left shorter and simpler.
Ask yourself, “What is this like?” to find engaging and visual analogies.
This process will embed the concept deeply in your mind and take your understanding from good to awesome.
7. Actually teach the concept to others.
If you haven’t already, why not share your new found clarity with the world?
Become a coach or a mentor. Write an article. Find a chance to present to your peers. This is the ultimate test of steps 1 through 6.
There’s also little more rewarding than being the catalyst for that, “Aha!” moment and watching someone’s anxiety and frustration melt away as you make a chewy topic easy to digest.
GET STARTED TODAY
The truth about learning is that feeling lost and confused doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re making progress.
Everyone gets held up in places. Einstein was a slow talker. But that didn’t hold him back. In fact, his lack of language helped him master the ability to see things in pictures. A skill that was pivotal to the world-changing findings he made.
What were Einstein’s thoughts on learning through teaching?
“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
So what are you waiting for?
Pick a topic you’re struggling with, or a topic you think you know well. Imagine teaching it clearly, quickly and simply. Be honest and specific about your gaps. Find new perspectives on the ideas you struggle with. Try again. Celebrate! Pass your insight on to someone else.
Before you know it, the things you found hard will feel easy.
And then? And then it’s time to find a new challenge, to keep learning and to “live your life in crescendo“.
Just remember: your ideas are only as effective as your ability to pass them on and you cannot give to others what you do not yet have yourself.