The protégé effect enables us to learn information better when we teach or intend to teach it to others, than when we learn it just for ourselves. The following article will show you how this effect works, and how you can take advantage of it in order to learn things in a new, effective way.
How the protégé effect works
The protégé effect helps us learn better through several mechanisms:
- Expecting to teach others encourages the use of effective learning strategies, such as structuring the material and seeking out key pieces of information.
- Expecting to teach also encourages metacognitive processing, which makes us more aware of our learning process, and helps us improve the way we learn.
- Learning with the intent of teaching often involves the use of additional techniques beyond those used when learning for yourself, which leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the material.
- Expecting to teach also increases the motivation to learn, meaning that students generally make a greater effort to learn for those that they will teach, than they do for themselves.
Taken together, this all means that students who learn the material with the intention of teaching it later, perform better when tested on that material than those who learn it just for themselves.
These benefits are not limited to learning in an academic setting; studies show that preparing to teach can also improve motor learning and enhance information processing when learning how to perform a physical task, such as how to hit the ball in golf.
Furthermore, there are additional benefits to teaching others, such as improved communication skills, increased confidence, and improved leadership ability. Most importantly, studies show that peer-teaching is also highly-helpful to the students being taught, since they often learn better when their teacher is someone that they are close to in terms of social and cognitive distance.
Note: interestingly, some studies suggest that the fact that older siblings tend to have a higher IQ than their younger siblings, can be attributed to the fact that the older siblings act as tutors in the family, at an age when they experience significant cognitive development. This represents an example for the powerful potential of the protégé effect, and for its long-term benefits.
How to take advantage of the protégé effect
You can benefit from the protégé effect using several techniques:
- Learn the material as if you are going to teach it to others- this involves getting to a level where you understand the material well enough that you would feel comfortable teaching it to someone else, and answering any questions that they might have on the topic. Try to envision what it would be like if you had to teach the material later, and study accordingly.
- Pretend to explain the material to someone- you will benefit more from the protégé effect if you at least act as if you are teaching the material to someone. Do it aloud, and pretend that you’re talking to a real person; the more you feel like you’re engaging in the act of teaching, the more you will benefit from the protégé effect.
- Actually teach the material to other people- you can either do this in a one-on-one setting, or in a group. At the end of the day, knowing that you are actually going to teach someone will give you the greatest boost to motivation, and will help you benefit the most from the experience of teaching.
You can use any combination of these techniques that you want. However, before deciding what to do, make sure to take into account the time and effort cost which is associated with each technique, and weigh it against the potential benefits.
Specifically, teaching someone in reality will allow you to benefit the most from the protégé effect, but it isn’t always convenient to do this. On the other hand, learning the material with the intention of teaching, and pretending to teach someone, are both slightly less effective methods, but they might offer a higher rate of learning benefits in comparison with the effort that they require.
At the end of the day, the right choice depends on your personal circumstances, preferences, and goals. Ask yourself which method or combination of methods will help you achieve the best outcome, and use that. Feel free to adjust whenever necessary.
Summary and conclusions
- The protégé effect enables us to learn information better when we teach or intend to teach it to others, than when we learn it just for ourselves.
- This effect improves our ability to learn by encouraging the use of effective learning strategies, and by increasing our motivation to study the material.
- Teaching also offers additional benefits, such as improved communication skills, increased confidence, and improved leadership ability.
- To take advantage of this effect, you can either learn the material as if you were going to teach it, pretend to teach it to someone, or teach it to other people in reality.
- The more you feel like you are engaging in the act of teaching, the more you will benefit from the protégé effect. However, when choosing which technique to use, take into account how much effort it will require to use it, and decide what to do based on your personal preferences and goals.