Learning Through Teaching – Michael Li

What is it actually meant to “learn” something? Is it just to acquire the necessary information? To understand it? Or maybe you just need to be able to answer that question on the final exam. To most people (students at least), this is in fact what learning is all about. To me, the only way I would know I have learned something is when I am able to teach what I have learned to someone else.

If I asked you: “What usually happens in a classroom?”, you’d probably say: “Well, the teacher teaches the students and the students learn.” While this is very true, the things happening in a classroom are actually a lot more complex. I think the working of a classroom is a sophisticated network of interaction from teacher to student, student to teacher and student to student. As a result, not only do the students learn the necessary material, but the teacher also receives valuable educational experience.

I have done a lot of peer tutoring in the past and not once have I answered a difficult question from a class mate without learning something from it myself. To be able to solve somebody’s problems while learning from their questions is how a successful teacher should be.

I have recently read an article about many European schools (especially in Germany) developing a didactic teaching method called “Learning by teaching”. In a nutshell, new material is taught to different groups of students by the teacher and these groups teach other groups what they have learned, thus developing a mutual teaching environment. This drastically increased productivity and the students’ ability to grasp concepts. I thought it was a brilliant idea, though the method can really only be implemented on a high school or lower level. Nonetheless, it shows how teaching can actually be a very effective learning method.


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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