08 Mar 2022

The Protégé Effect: How to Learn by Teaching Others

When we think of studying, the image of opening a book or Powerpoint often comes to mind. We prepare ourselves to use a learning method that ups concentration and decreases distraction. We take notes, jot down flashcards, and highlight important factoids. For the extremely tech-savvy, this extends to the correct apps, setups on multiple monitors, and perhaps a reminder or two on a gadget of choice.

Amidst these preparations, we sternly remind ourselves: no talking to peers or chatting on the Group Chat!

But hold that thought. Though it seems counter-intuitive, one of the best ways to learn is by teaching others. This is called the protégé effect, a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information. The protégé effect helps you learn information better as a result of several psychological mechanisms stemming from the differences between how we learn information when we learn for ourselves versus how we learn when we expect to teach others.

Specific benefits include: increased metacognitive processing, using effective learning strategies, a boost to motivation to learn, and feelings of competence and autonomy when you see yourself as a teacher rather than a learner.

Another specific advantage manifests when peers teach one another. Peer-teaching has been shown to be more effective than teacher-to-student teaching because people often learn better when their teacher is someone that they are close to in terms of social and cognitive distance, such as a classmate or friend.

So, it might be a good idea to participate in the group chat after all.

But before you get carried away sharing memes and gossip, remember that this is about making the protégé effect work for you and your peers. Keep your focus on teaching and sharing information by organising a targeted Discord session or Zoom call. You could also take turns with your classmates, with one person being the “teacher” and the rest “students” for each session.

If you are the easily distracted sort, don’t worry! The protégé effect works even if you are pretending to teach. This is because its benefits lie in the way you look at the material, not the actual act of teaching itself. Hence, pretending that you will be teaching someone will influence the way you learn for the better. Try speaking aloud to an invisible class of students, or study with an eye on what questions might be asked of you, if you were your lecturer. These changes in perspective will give your learning a new boost!

So the next time you sit down to study, consider yourself not just a learner, but a teacher as well. After all, you never know when that will actually be the case.