Telling someone they’ll need to teach another person makes them learn more

The often quoted learning pyramid is a myth but new research does suggest that teaching others helps to learn more for the person teaching, but not because of the reasons you might think. To put it too bluntly: pupils remember more if you tell them they will need to teach others about it than if you tell them that there will be a test.

“They found that individuals who learned non-social Scholastic Aptitude Test passages for the sake of teaching another person showed the same kind of recall advantage over individuals with a memorization goal that was observed in the social encoding studies already discussed. Critically, participants were tested prior to being able to teach the material and thus the effects are attributable to encoding processes, rather than the process of integrating the information during the act of teaching. If these results turn out to depend on the mentalizing network rather than traditional memory encoding regions, it would suggest that merely having a social motivation during encoding is sufficient to engage the processes of this distinct mnemonic system.”

But do be careful, as with most neuro-educational research there is an important caution:

“The ideas presented here should be understood in context. These are plausible routes to enhancing different kinds of learning based on what we know about the social brain. These are not recommendations based on years of integrating social neuroscience with classroom education. At this point there is no formal social neuroscience of education, but there should be.”

Abstract of the research that can be read here:

The study of the social brain offers a number of opportunities for enhancing classroom education. This review focuses on the mentalizing network, a set of brain regions that support thinking about the thoughts, feelings, and goals of others. This network typically competes with brain regions supporting analytical thought and memorization. Rather than treating classroom learning and socializing as antithetical to one another, this paper suggests our natural social tendencies can be leveraged to improve learning, by making the content and process of education more social. Recommendations are made for history and English classes, as well as for STEM fields. Finally, it is proposed that educating adolescents about the social brain itself will reap educational rewards.

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