Learn by Teaching

by Krishna on February 3, 2007

Often, I have seen that the best way to learn something is to communicate whatever I have learnt to other people. By communicating my thoughts and helping the other person learn what I have learnt, it reinforces what I have understood and helps me apply this in my life. Also, this process provides valuable practice in thinking about and talking about the idea or subject and its various aspects.

There are many ways to communicate what one has learnt to other people. Conducting formal training classes is one of the best methods. When you volunteer to do this, you have to spend time reading and collecting a lot of material and organizing that into a coherent presentation. Also, you are forced to learn enough of the subject so that you can answer questions posed by your audience.

However, opportunities for official training are limited and, even if they weren’t, the sessions are relatively time-consuming. A simpler way is to introduce ideas that you have learnt in conversations with friends and colleagues. Sometimes you run the risk of making them bored — hence it is necessary to make the conversation two-sided: Ask them what they think about the subject and listen to their viewpoints.

Writing is another method of communicating ideas. Blogs are a great mechanism for writing frequently since one does not have to worry about the means of publication. All you need is a blog hosting site and an editor — both of which are easily available nowadays for free.

A good benefit of writing frequently is that it helps refine one’s ideas and helps in greater understanding of the issues involved. Putting up the writing for public view on a website or blog is even better, because one has to defend one’s ideas against anyone who is reading them. Frequently, people post comments that give you different perspectives and ideas.

Although learning by teaching is such an effective method, many people shy away from it. A few reasons I have seen:

  1. People wrongly assume that you have to be perfect in order to teach: This is born out of the idea, “Practice what you preach.” My opinion is that unless a person has bad motives (like fraud), not practicing or not practicing enough should not prevent a person from talking about an idea. Let us say that I talk about the importance of prioritizing while I am really bad at it. The worst part is that I am a hypocrite, but at least this way, I realize the importance of prioritization. If I am really interested in bettering myself, talking about it will constantly make me aware of my weaknesses in that area and I will work towards improving them or working around them.
  2. People are afraid about what others will say or feel: I don’t want to discount the embarrassment that people feel when they look bad in front of their peers, superiors or juniors. But fear of failure and fear of ridicule can be a major obstacle towards achievement. For example, if I want to ride a bicycle, I must be ready to fall down a few times. If I want to build a good software application, I must accept that I will make many mistakes — even obvious mistakes in that process. Nobody is perfect. Accepting that is the first step towards personal improvement.
  3. People don’t want to expose themselves: Talking or writing about ideas means taking sides. Any time you take a side, you risk offending someone by showing them where you belong. The fact is that you cannot please everybody and by trying to be neutral, you cease to be original and authentic. Take stands. Be passionate. Show others what you believe in. That builds self-confidence like nothing else can.

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