The importance of sharing knowledge
One of the most common questions I’m asked when I do Orientation tours in September is “What’s the best way to learn in university?” Most students expect to hear an answer like: “study hard” or “ask your teacher.” Sure, this way works for some students, but I was taught a different way of learning material back in second year, and it actually ended up sticking with me throughout my degree.
My answer to students is a little different, having been passed down to me from one of my biochemistry professors. My answer is always, “If you want to master the material, teach it to someone else.” This usually takes students by surprise, because how can teaching someone else result in personal learning? One would expect that if anything, you’d have to be the one getting help if you didn’t fully comprehend the material, and you wouldn’t even be able to teach the material to begin with.
I and many of my friends noticed that even if we didn’t fully understand a concept, we would try our best to explain it to someone else. As we were doing so, we started noticing portions of the concept that we didn’t see before and began automatically making connections that eventually helped us fully understand what we were teaching.
A better example of this is tutoring. Anyone who’s tutored before would notice that as you revisited the material every time you met up with your student, you likely noticed your understanding increasing, even though you had mastered the course prior to taking on your student. I noticed this when I began tutoring Biochemistry 300A up several years ago up until now.
This doesn’t apply to only to learning course material. Teaching material to others can also cause you to become more passionate about it, and this passion can definitely rub off on others. In the past, I’ve given presentations on immunology and medicinal chemistry to high school classes, and will soon be delivering a virology presentation to my old high school.
I found that immunology, something that wasn’t my favorite subject prior to making the presentation, soon became one of my favorite things to learn about. As I was presenting with a couple of fellow students, I could see the high school students becoming more and more excited as well. I actually will now browse the Journal of Immunology every so often to see what’s going on in the field, thanks to that immunology teaching experience I had.
If you want to learn better as the student, make yourself the teacher.