Learning through teaching
I’ve been watching one of the podcasts recorded from the Alt.NET Houston conference titled ‘Why blog and open source’ and one of the interesting ideas that stood out amongst the opinions express is that people write about their experience in order to understand the topics better themselves.
I’ve found this to be a very valuable way of learning - in fact it’s probably more beneficial to the teacher than the student, somewhat ironically.
I’ve noticed that there are a few opportunities that we can take advantage of in order to increase our knowledge on topics by teaching other people about them.
By ‘teaching’ I mean explaining your understanding of a topic to other people rather than the traditional classroom approach where the ‘teacher’ is the expert and the ‘students’ are mostly passive learners.
I’ve often found that when I start to write about a topic I discover some things about it that I hadn’t previously considered and of course the ability for people to give you feedback on what you write means that it can become a two way conversation. There have certainly been a couple of occasions when people with more knowledge of a topic than me have pointed out where my understand of something can be improved.
The same thing applies when presenting about a topic although the feedback will be more immediate.
The advantage of this approach is that everyone gets the opportunity to teach the rest of the group in a topic area in which they have more knowledge and/or have studied more recently.
If you know you need to explain something to other people then I think it encourages you to approach the subject differently than if you are just reading through it for yourself. You also need to understand the topic more clearly yourself and be able to put it into your own words to explain to other people.
The temptation is to wait until they’re not around to implement your ideas but this misses a great opportunity to explore how well you really understand the topic area.
The questions posed by someone with less knowledge on a topic than you will force you to come up with good reasons for your opinions that you can explain in a more simple way than you may be used to. We may be forced to come up with metaphors that make it easier to explain something and certainly coming up with these metaphors may improve our own understanding.
Of course it’s not the only approach to learning but I’ve found it to be a surprisingly effective one.