‘while we teach, we learn’ (Seneca c. 4 BC – 65 AD)
Have you ever spent hours reading and memorising content to later realise that you don’t truly understand what you’ve learnt? The protégé effect might be able to help.
The protégé effect refers to the psychological phenomenon where an individual can reinforce their understandings, increase their motivation and utilise more effective learning strategies by studying with the intention of explaining content to others. This means that students who learn with the expectation of teaching others, as opposed to learning content just for themselves, will perform better when tested on that material.
How does the protégé effect work?
There are a number of psychological mechanisms which cause students who learn with the intention of teaching others to form deeper understandings, including: an increased use of metacognitive processing strategies, more organised conceptual mappings of a topic and feelings of competence and responsibility which lead to higher levels of motivation when learning.
This is backed up by scientific research, such as a 2014 study where 56 students were told to read a passage, half of whom would be tested on the passage and half who would be teaching material from the passage to another student. The students who were expecting to teach material recalled information in a more complete and organised way than those who were expecting just to be tested, particularly in terms of remembering key points± from the passage.
How can we use the protégé effect for our benefit?
When approaching new material or revising content for an exam, students should study with the expectation that they will be able to explain the content to someone else who knows nothing about the subject and answer questions on it. This will ensure that they truly understand what they have learnt.
It is here that the role of a tutor, teacher or friends to study with becomes significant as an active listening ear allows students to verbally explain their independent thinking and thought processes. This is why as a tutor I make sure to consistently ask my students to explain their ways of thinking. This allows them to demonstrate that they truly understand a topic, as opposed to simply being able to produce an answer without thoroughly understanding the ideas behind that answer.
Alongside strengthening understandings and longer term memory recall of information, the protégé effect also has non-academic benefits, such as improved communication skills, leadership ability and increased confidence levels.