Learning by Teaching

“Learning by Teaching” asks students to learn course content by designing lesson plans and by teaching the material to another (or hypothetical) student. Students can engage in “learning by teaching” by teaching course content to others in person, in small group presentations, through an online discussion, through a recorded video, in a teaching practicum, or in a service-learning project.

“While we teach, we learn.”
– Seneca

Background and Theory

Learning by Teaching

Picture of a student teaching her classmates.

“Learning by Teaching,” also referred to as the “Protégé effect” in popular literature, is a learning strategy where learners create a lesson plan and teach the content to others. The benefits of “Learning by Teaching” have been known since ancient Roman times (see Seneca’s quotation), but the theory was formally articulated in the 1980s.

Students who teach course content to others spend more time reading, analyzing, and organizing information and concepts. They also become more motivated to understand the material, and they include more physical and mental activities that promote learning (such as explaining, writing, drawing, speaking, and question answering). “Learning by Teaching” promotes information retrieval, and, when the presentation moves beyond summary or restatement, it also promotes a deeper understanding of the content. Other benefits include increased confidence, communication, leadership, and empathy skills.

One of the earliest ways “Learning by Teaching” was recognized was by documenting the learning benefits of teaching through peer tutoring. In the 1982 meta-analysis article “Educational Outcomes of Tutoring,” Cohen, Kulik, and Kulik summarized findings from 65 studies on peer tutoring that demonstrate the learning benefits for the tutor. According to the article, tutors “developed more positive attitudes toward the subjects,” and “they also gained a better understanding of these areas” (p. 8).

The benefits of “Learning by Teaching” have been demonstrated more recently by the work of Logan Fiorella and Richard Mayer. In their 2013 article, “The Relative Benefits of Learning by Teaching and Teaching Expectancy,” Fiorella and Mayer compared student learning results of students who taught course content (by video recording their lesson), students who only prepared a lesson plan in writing, and students who did not prepare any teaching material. Of the three groups, students who prepared and taught the content scored highest on the comprehension exam, while students who neither taught nor prepared content scored the lowest of all. These results were reaffirmed in their follow up article in 2014.

Implementing “Learning by Teaching”

Courses could implement “Learning by Teaching” by asking students to present to each other in pairs or small groups, or they could teach a concept to the whole class. At the beginning of the semester, assign students to groups and ask them to select a course topic. Each week, ask the group to teach a concept in about 15 minutes to the rest of the class; groups can give presentations, design in-class activities, or lead discussions. In online classes, ask students to submit a video to Canvas.

In more advanced classes, provide student-led teaching as a form of service-learning. For example, Nursing students could teach community members how to measure blood sugar and monitor calorie intake; students in Arts & Science and Business programs could also provide instruction to local schools, through after-school tutoring programs, through Junior Achievement, and at non-profit organizations.

Grading “Learning by Teaching” Assignments

Example assessments include grading for accuracy of information, thoroughness or clarity of explanation, originality or creativity in teaching methodology, classroom engagement, effectiveness of presentation, and teamwork. If the assignment requires use of outside sources, “effective use of research” and “documentation” can be additional assessment criteria.

“Learning by Teaching” can also be incorporated into a problem-based learning, service-learning project, or other group assignment. In these cases, the teaching can be graded for its effectiveness in problem solving or for its positive impact on the community. If nothing else, the activity may count as a daily participation grade, and the increased learning and higher test scores may be their own reward.

Click on the Teaching tag for more strategies on effective teaching, or contact the Dean for Teaching & Learning Outcomes.

Have you used “Learning by Teaching” strategies?  How well does it work?  What’s the assignment or class activity?  Are you thinking about using the “Learning by Teaching” strategy?  What are course material would the students be teaching?  Please post a comment below.

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