You learn most when you teach

Teach Learn

In order to teach something, you first have to know it well. More than that, you need to know how to communicate that learning so it becomes the learning of someone else. That is a different plane entirely.

When I was a school teacher, I found my understanding of Economics grew each year as I researched it more, found new ways to get the concepts across, and came across different classrooms with a wide variety of learning styles. Some people learnt most by doing exercises, some by hearing it explained well, some others liked to see it first, or from understanding a logical flow. As a rule of thumb, I found that I had to explain most central concepts in at least three different ways before most “got it“.

The local primary school my children attend has a dynamic new Principal who told me once: “Children learn 80% of what they learn from other children; the trouble is that 80% of it is wrong!” So the trick becomes, teach the children to teach others the right stuff, and in the right way. Collaboration is key. Who sits with who, and how they are arranged is critical to this working. You also need to train the teachers to this new way of learning. It’s amazing to witness it in practice. And yet, when you think about it, it all makes perfect sense.

Once  I switched to business about 15 years ago, I quickly realised that I had to “educate to sell“. Especially as I was in a new industry (internet) and was trying to convince hard-nosed salespeople who had done things one way for many years with great success to change their ways entirely. I had to teach them about the new media and how to use it. I was learning too. Years later, I hired a consultant to go out and ask why our clients used us. He reported back that “They look on you as their ‘interweb’ guru, who explains all this techie stuff they need to know, and keep them up with all the latest.” I suppose the teacher in me never went away.

Education theory already backs this up:

  • we retain 5% of what we hear
  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we see
  • 50% of what we discuss
  • 75% of what we practice (do)
  • 90% of what we teach others

Try teaching someone today; and encourage a culture of teaching and learning in your organisation. You’ll be amazed at the spread of knowledge that results. You’ll learn most yourself. Learning organisations are always the most successful and longest lasting.

2 thoughts on “You learn most when you teach

  1. Great article and encouraging. Reminded me of The Hundredth Monkey story in the context of knowledge spreading (the jury is still out on this one I believe but it’s plausible).

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