Students who believe that they will have to teach material to others remember more information than students who are told that their learning will be measured by a test, according to new research in the journal Memory & Cognition published by the Psychonomic Society.
Prior research has shown that when a student teaches or tutors one or more students, the teaching student often shows learning gains. Researchers J. F. Nestojko and D.C. Bui of Washington University, E.L. Bjork of the University of California and Nate Kornell of Williams College set out to study what happens if students are simply told that they will have to teach the material they are learning rather than being tested on it.
Fifty-six undergraduate students were told to read a 1,500-word passage that compared the depiction of the Crimean War in a movie with the actual events of that war. They were told that they could not take notes, highlight or underline the text as they read but that they could reread the passage as many times as they wanted during a 10-minute period.
Half of the students were told that they would be expected to teach the contents of the passage while the other half were told that they would be tested on the passage. Both groups were informed that they would not have access to the passage once the reading time expired and that they would participate in a 25-minute memory game that was unrelated to the passage before they would have to teach or take a test.
When both groups of students were tested on the passage, those who had expected to teach, but never did, produced 25 percent more correct responses than those who were expecting a test. Those expecting to teach also demonstrated more ability to organize the passage’s information and pull out the important facts and concepts.
The researchers believe that making students teach each other is an effective, inexpensive learning intervention. When students think they will have to teach, the researchers theorized, they put themselves into the mindset of a teacher. That mindset causes them to use more efficient learning strategies, such as organizing material, weighing the importance of different concepts and focusing on the main points.