The protégé effect is a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information. For example, a student who is studying for an exam could benefit from the protégé effect and improve their understanding of the relevant material, by teaching that material to their peers.
Because of its beneficial influence, the protégé effect can be a useful tool in a variety of situations. As such, in the following article you will learn more about this effect, and about how you can use it as effectively as possible.
Examples of the protégé effect
The protégé effect is primarily associated with the academic context, where teaching others can help you learn material that you need to learn yourself. However, the protégé effect can also benefit you in a variety of other, non-academic environments. For example:
- When it comes to hobbies, teaching basic skills to novices can help you refine and master those skills yourself.
- When it comes to work, explaining important procedures to new employees can help you remember those procedures better yourself.
- When it comes to general knowledge, explaining concepts that you’re interested in to people who aren’t familiar with them can help you improve your understanding of those concepts.
Psychology of the protégé effect
The protégé effect helps you learn information better as a result of several psychological mechanisms, all of which revolve around the differences between how we learn information when we’re learning for ourselves, compared to how we learn it when we expect to teach others, as well as when we teach them in practice. Specifically:
- Expecting to teach and teaching can lead to increased metacognitive processing, which makes people more actively aware of their learning process.
- Expecting to teach and teaching can lead to increased use of effective learning strategies, such as organizing the material and seeking out key pieces of information.
- Expecting to teach and teaching can lead to increased motivation to learn, since people will often make a greater effort to learn for those that they will teach, than they do for themselves.
- Expecting to teach and teaching can lead to increased feelings of competence and autonomy, by encouraging people to view themselves as playing the role of a teacher, rather than that of the student.
The benefits of teaching others
As we saw above, teaching others facilitates your own ability to learn the material, through several mechanisms. Accordingly, 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.
Furthermore, such benefits are not limited to academic settings, as studies show that preparing to teach can also improve motor learning and enhance information processing when learning to perform physical tasks, such as how to hit the ball in golf.
In addition, there are other benefits to teaching others, beyond the improvement in ability to learn the material. Such benefits include, for example, improved communication skills, increased confidence, and improved leadership ability.
Moreover, when preparing to teach increases people’s motivation to learn the material, this not only serves as a mechanism through which the protégé effect facilitates learning, but also as a direct benefit of the effect, which is intrinsically valuable. The same is true of the increased feelings of competence and autonomy that people experience as a result of playing the role of the teacher, which can facilitate learning, but which are also valuable on their own.
Finally, another notable benefit of the protégé effect, which applies in cases where peers teach one another, is the fact that peer-teaching can also be highly beneficial 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: 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 undergo significant cognitive development. This represents an example of the powerful influence of the protégé effect, and of its long-term benefits.
How to use the protégé effect
There are three main ways in which you can use the protégé effect to facilitate your learning:
- Learn the material as if you’re going to teach it to others. For example, this could entail trying to learn the material well enough that you would feel comfortable explaining it to someone else later, and finding the answers to likely questions that people might ask you on the topic.
- Pretend that you’re teaching the material to someone. The more realistic this will feel, the more you will benefit from the protégé effect, so it can be worthwhile to put effort into visualizing this and to do this aloud. Furthermore, while doing this, you can go beyond just explaining the material, and also pretend that you’re being asked specific questions about the material, by the person that you’re teaching it to.
- Teach the material to other people in reality. This involves actually meeting other people and teaching them, either one-on-one or in a group setting. Though this approach takes the most effort, it can also lead to the greatest benefits, especially since knowing that you’re actually going to teach someone will likely provide you with the greatest boost to your motivation.
You can use any combination of these techniques that you want. For example, you might learn the material as if you were going to teach it to others and then pretend that you’re teaching it to someone, or you might skip directly to teaching the material to other people in reality.
When deciding which techniques to use, you should assess the potential benefits of each, and then weigh them against the potential costs involved, in terms of factors such as time and effort.
Specifically, while teaching someone in reality will often allow you to benefit the most from the protégé effect, this method generally entails much more secondary costs than the other approaches, in terms of factors such as the time it takes to schedule a meeting with others. On the other hand, learning the material as if you’re going to teach someone and pretending to teach someone are both slightly less effective methods, but are generally much easier and more convenient to set up.
Which methods you should use will also depend on factors such as your personal circumstances, preferences, and goals.
For example, if you really enjoy teaching others, or if you have an upcoming exam where it’s crucial to get a high score and you have a lot of free time, meeting with someone in order to teach them might be the best course of action. Conversely, if you dislike teaching, or if you have an exam that isn’t important to you and you’re short on time, you will likely be better off just learning the material as if you’re going to teach it, rather than teaching it to someone in reality.
Summary and conclusions
- The protégé effect is a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information.
- The protégé effect improves your learning process by increasing your metacognitive processing, increasing your use of effective learning strategies, increasing your motivation to learn the material, and increasing your feelings of competence and autonomy.
- Beyond improving your ability to learn the material, teaching others can also lead to additional benefits, such as improved communication skills, increased confidence, and improved leadership ability.
- To take advantage of the protégé effect, you can learn the material as if you’re going to teach it, pretend to teach it to someone, or teach it to other people in reality, or you can use some combination of these techniques.
- When deciding which approach to use in order to benefit from the protégé effect, remember that the more realistic the teaching feels, the more you will benefit from it, but that any potential benefits must be weighed against potential costs, such as the time and effort involved in implementing any given technique.