As a doctor, I am expected to complete a certain number of continuing education hours per year to maintain my registration. When I recently took part in an eight-hour course, including one hour as an instructor, I was, to my great surprise, only awarded seven hours of continuing education. I called to ask why that was. The answer was quite baffling: “In the hour that you were teaching, you didn’t learn anything. That’s why we registered seven hours.”
Apparently, it was not clear to this person that you often learn more from teaching than from taking a course. Teachers try to prepare well, read relevant literature, and consider all the difficult questions students might ask as well as the answers to these questions. Not only do you learn a lot from this, but you also integrate the material better. If you’re a teacher, you will no doubt recognise this.
That is why it’s so valuable when students are invited, under the guidance of a lecturer, to explain course material to each other. More than once I have seen it happen that students who are convinced that they know how things stand, find out during their own explanation that something is not quite right after all. This is very instructive. When students explain things to one another, however, it is important that a lecturer is present who can make sure that no misconceptions arise or go unanswered, and who can answer difficult questions that students cannot figure out on their own. If questions are raised that cannot be answered in the current state of science, the lecturer can guide students in formulating new critical research questions. Moreover, the lecturer contributes to a good atmosphere and motivation.
This approach is also valuable for lecturers. They gain a greater understanding of the questions students are facing, and also of how to explain or not to explain something. This does take guts, because as a lecturer, you definitely lose some control. But for those who are well-versed in the material, it is a really fun and exciting approach.
For students, this approach can sometimes be difficult at first. It is also hard work. But they usually soon realise that this helps them understand and remember the material much better: that they learn better by teaching someone else.