Teach what you are learning… ASAP

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin


I bookmarked an article today written by @michaeldsimmons, a contributor to Time, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and editor of Accelerated Intelligence. It is called “Explanation Effect: Why You Should Always Teach What You Learn.” (2020, Feb 15). The article discussess the value of immediately sharing knowledge once it is acquired. He says “in teaching what you learn as soon as you learn it, magical things happen before, during, and after.”

My piece today focuses on this concept of teaching what you are learning – especially in our current state of virtual course delivery. We have a rare opportunity right now where many of our students are a captive audience. Yes, distractions, stress triggers, and a general sense of overwhelm exist as well, but based on what I am seeing from many of my students — they are a bit bored or stagnant in this isolation, and a dose of retention-worthy stimuli could really sink in and make an impact.

Graphic source: Simmons, M (2020). Explanation effect: Why you should always teach what you learn. Medium Accelerated Intelligence. Retrieved from source

Breaking down a few highlights from the above graphic…

  • Lectures (5% retention): In my early days of teaching I put a lot of energy into lectures. I have since backed off on this high level of emphasis and instead use them as a source for passive content – only sharing select slides live in class or for my recorded lectures, walking through them with value-add stories and examples.
  • Reading (10% retention): Because I do not spend a lot of time in traditional lecture-mode in my classes (and instead focus on the real-time application of concepts), I rely on reading assignments as a way for students to deep-dive into relevant course content with the added value of end-of-chapter quizzes built into the e-textbooks I use. I recognize the limitations of this approach, but I feel better knowing they have an incentive to read the material I assign.
  • Audiovisual (20%) and Demonstration (30%): Maybe it is because I am a visual learner, but I find the application of audiovisuals and live demonstrations in teaching to be one of the more effective approaches to delivering content that sticks. I follow it up with real-time application to enhance retention and from the feedback I have received, this is a good approach.
  • Discussion (50%) and Practice by doing (75%): For my online classes, a discussion forum is especially effective with online graduate students. They really embrace this form of interaction and information sharing. Live, in class discussions are also very effective (pro tip: use Zoom’s breakout room function to spark small group discussions). Practice by doing is core to my teaching style. I firmly believe that the immediate application of concepts presented is the only way to ensure anywhere close to 75% retention. Students who take their learning a step further and begin to utilize a tool in other classes or in their professions are the ones that solidify the value of demonstrations.

Teach others (90% retention) – I was interviewed by a student this week who is writing a paper about faculty impact with COVID19 and moving classes online. He asked, “What have been some of the main changes to how you work (how have you had to adapt to online teaching)?” There are obvious answers to this question – adjustments to the course schedule and assignments, in-person instruction moved to virtual Zoom sessions, and the dusting off of old slide decks to polish them up and make them worthy of a recorded lecture. But, what I am really seeing in myself is that I am now much more inspired to teach them what I am learning in real-time. No longer am I bookmarking, filing, or saving ideas and resources for later. Now, relevant information, sources, and ideas are shared immediately via email, announcements, or during a live Zoom session.

A few examples I received and shared this past week that are relevant to two communication courses I teach in writing across multiple channels and digital campaign design, implementation, and metrics tracking:

  • United Nations global call to creatives to stop the spread of COVID-19

    This semester alone I have more than 100 talented students who could make a global impact by contributing their original creative work to this unique and timely endeavor. The United Nations and World Health Organization sent out a call to all creatives to contribute global messaging to stop the spread of #COVID19 around around the following priority topics: “Personal Hygiene, Physical Distancing, Know the symptoms, Kindness contagion, Myth-busting, Do more, donate.” Through original submissions of video, social media posts, articles, illustrations, etc., students have the opportunity to not only give back, but to use this time to conceptualize, create, and share their talents with a broad audience.

    Immediate application: I sent this call-out to my students via email and announcements, as well as posted a call-out to my @MurrowCollege peers via Twitter. I am also working with my student leads for our Center for Civic Engagement projects to incorporate this call-out into the design of their next batch of assignments for their teams working on developing outreach materials for mental health awareness, public health, and food insecurity.

  • Ogilvy’s checklist: what coronavirus means for brands on social media

    Image source: Ogilvy

    I am team-teaching a digital communications course this semester with two talented peer faculty – Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka and Chelsea Newman. We each have our own sections of the course, but we have joined forces to utilize the same syllabus and assignments, course blog, and integrated Google Drive tools and folder system. We all have our own teaching styles and methods, but the collaboration gives us a support network and information-share space one does not find when teaching a class solo. Our 27 student teams (100+ students) who created mock companies as part of a semester-long project are about to embark on the creation and implementation of integrated digital campaigns in the midst of #COVID19. This was not the original plan and now they must adjust. Cara found this resource from Ogilvy that we are going to apply immediately into the teams’ next assignment for Campaign #2 – challenging them to take a critical look at their current social media engagement strategy and adjust based on the COVID19 communication messaging climate.

    Immediate application: We are sharing the resource with students and addressing the task in their Campaign #2 assignment and directly through our 1:1 meetups with each team.

  • Chronicle of Higher Ed’s “moving online now” collection

    On Mar 15, The Chronicle of Higher Ed sent out a notice to download their article collection called “Moving Online Now: How to keep teaching during coronavirus.” It is a free 32-page document that includes articles, relevant tips and resources related to moving in-person classes online. All of the articles are written by industry experts offering their knowledge and insights on ways professors can quickly and effectively take their course content from the physical classroom and shift it to a virtual space. Each article is relatively brief and not too dense – complete with bulleted lists, helpful tips, and useful graphics designed to guide faculty members through this process.

    Immediate application: This one is more for me and my Online Teaching Tips microblog series than a direct application to curriculum. Mostly I am reviewing the material to cull out the most immediately applicable information I can use myself or share with others.

Circling back to Simmons’ article, the “explanation effect” is a concept around teaching what you learn. Because as professors we are active learners, we must teach and share this information for fear it will be lost within weeks.

“No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”

Peter Drucker, educator, management consultant and author

Simmons offers a few practical tips for applying the explanation effect concept:

  1. Start a daily journal (or blog!). Spend at least 15 minutes each day writing and reflecting on what you learned in the past 10 hours. As an added bonus – make a note of how you can effectively and immediately share that knowledge with your students.
  2. Join collaborative communities like Facebook Groups with individuals who have shared interests and knowledge. I belong to one for AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication). It is a hugely supportive group of peer faculty and scholars teaching the full range of communication topics.
  3. Share what you learn. When you come across a reference article, concept, or new tool, let others know about it through email, a Twitter post, or collaborative group space. Spread the word and see what comes back. “Teaching is knowledge’s oxygen.” – Simmons

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

Leave a Reply