Do you ever find yourself struggling to explain a new idea, process, or story to another person? A new study published in Memory&Cognition may have some tips that will help. Researchers wanted to know how people most effectively learn and retain information, and the answer was relatively simple and might surprise you – people who were led to believe they would be required to teach another person/group the information they were learning remembered the information better.
Here’s the scoop: the study, led by Dr. John Nestojko, focused on two separate groups of people. One group was given lesson materials to learn and informed that they, once the material had been learned, would be given a test. The other group was given the same set of materials, however, they were given the impression that that would be teaching the information to another person/group. While both groups were given the same test afterwards, neither group was required to teach the information to anyone else. Participants in the second group, those expecting to teach the information, had an easier time completing the test, completed the test more quickly, and had better test scores than participants in the first group.
It appears that, when we are aware that we are expected to share information prior to learning it, we pay more attention, organize information more accurately and systematically, and seek out key information and/or points for emphasis. Essentially, people who realize (or just think) that they will be teaching something at a later point will learn and process the material in a way that promotes both teaching and comprehension. We automatically turn to the learning tools of our school days by placing the material we are learning in a clear, coherent manner, and the result of this behavior leads us to better understand and retain the information overall. Without realizing it, we took the structure and presentation of information we received in school and turned that method into effective learning strategies that we have invariably used all our lives!
This information is especially interesting if you consider how it could be applied in an educational setting: students who are required to teach the information they are learning will learn it better than if they are just being tested on it. Going through the process of learning information while preparing and structuring it for another audience allows learners to fully comprehend the information at hand. It makes all those presentations I did on Christopher Columbus and our friend the beaver seem a little more meaningful and worthwhile. So, go forth, learn, and teach! Or, at least think you’re going to so your brain will help you learn better.