Learn Through Teaching Your Dog
I’ve written before about the giant void between recognising and understanding. This knowledge gap causes millions of students (and adults!) to mistakenly think that they will retain knowledge when it is actually forgotten shortly after the first hearing.
So how do we identify and close these gaps in our knowledge?
I’ve done a lot of one-to-one tutoring, and when I don’t really know my stuff, there is nowhere to hide. Teaching forces me comes to terms with what I really know, as opposed to what I… err… sorta remember. But you probably aren’t always close to a willing disciple. So imagine that you are teaching your dog, or your nan. Someone who is completely new to the subject and requires the clearest of explanations.
When you teach someone (or some canine) your brain must:
- Prioritise and focus on only the most important information first, leaving side-points for later.
- Break down the topic into the simplest terms. Because the best teachers use small, clear words so as not to overwhelm the learner.
- Structure your answer very clearly.
- Realise what you don’t actually know very well.
- Use your own words to explain the concept, making you much more likely to remember it.
Notice that the above list is exactly the recipe of the perfect exam answer/study notes? So don’t revision trying to answer questions. Instead, write explanations to concepts and questions (Incidentally, this is the best way to revise for exams). Similarly, in any text/exam, instead of showing off what you know, imagine that you are teaching the examiner. Now watch your grades soar!
This technique is a variant of the Feynman Technique (he actually won his Nobel Prize for Quantum Physics). This study hack helps you to efficiently organise your explanations clearly and effectively, and will ensure that you truly understand the topic:
1. Write down a simple question to focus your studies.
E.g. Explain How Photosynthesis Works? Or, What Are The Most Important Turning Points Of The 100 Years War…
2. On pen and paper, or a computer, write down your answer as if you are explaining it to a five-year-old kid
Simple, clear, succinct answers. No need to include anything irrelevant.
3. Look out for any knowledge gaps
Can’t explain something very well? Great! You’ve found a gap that could otherwise have caused you harm down the line! Now go back to your notes or YouTube (or Quora!) until you can explain it fully!
Remember: if you can’t fully explain it, then you don’t fully understand it.
4. Use an analogy
To really push your understanding, see if you can relate the concept to another. Links between topics massively help your brain to store and retain information. E.g. Plants absorb water and carbon dioxide to produce energy a bit like I need raw lemons, water and sugar to produce sweet, sweet lemonade.
5. Now review and simplify the answer to make it punchy.
It often takes a couple of drafts to review something. If your explanation seems wordy or muddled, that’s an indication that you do not (yet) understand the idea well enough. If that happens, go back until you have mastered it.
TOP TIP: I suggest writing longer answers the first time and then reviewing them a day or two later to cut them down. This helps me focus, and remember the materials. It also takes pressure off of having to get it right the first time.
TOP TIP 2: Combine with a time bomb (feel free to check out my post on how to use these here) to make the process super efficient.
P.S. Did you know that someone used this very concept to write an amazing book that teaches one of the most topics in the universe? Check our ‘How To Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog’ by Chad Orzel (2010)