We all know the secret to learning is plugging our brains in like the Matrix cats and downloading Kung Fu lessons or whatever other skills we deem necessary – but if you don’t have one of those cool Tron devices to zap you into the Matrix, then you are left with just a couple alternatives.

Teach your way to understanding

This is the methodology I have been employing for years and I feel it works best.  Here are the basics steps to really get it to work.

  1. Pick something you ‘kind of know about’ but want to really understand
  2. Find a group of people who know less than you about “it”
  3. Teach those people what you know

What you kind of know

So what qualifies as kind of knowing?  I guess it is up to you.  I took one course on C++ a decade ago and then worked through a book on Processing code and deemed myself capable enough to  teach others about code.

What you may not realize is how much you know that you take for granted.  For example – it seems obvious to me that I need to think about variables to use as I create a program – but someone without any programming experience might not even grasp the concept of a variable to begin with – you could teach them something!

If you can roughly identify some of the fundamental aspects of a concept then I personally deem you competent to teach others what you sort of know.

This leads into to the strategy of the second step.

People who know less than you

I will let the cat out of the bag here – one of the best audiences for teaching something that you don’t fully understand is kids.

I am not saying that kids aren’t smart – cause they are, but most of the time they don’t know jack simply because they haven’t had the years to learn like you have.  Teaching kids helps in a couple areas.

  • Kids need to know the basics – and the basics is what you are trying to concrete in your own brain.
  • Kids ask questions that adults might be afraid to ask – this will keep you learning in order to answer them well.
  • Kids have short attention spans – this keeps what you have to teach minimal, reducing your preparation workload.
  • You can B.S. kids easier then adults (Oh come on, have some fun!)

Another great thing about kids is that they are everywhere.  And you don’t need a classroom full to teach to get the benefit of learning either.  Just a couple kids that you apprentice would help your understanding double.

Teach what you Know

We already established if you are teaching to learn, then you are not some expert.  Don’t feel like a poser just cause you are at the head of the class – let your students know that you are there to learn too.

Most students will appreciate your frankness and it will make them feel more at ease to ask questions.  The crux of this method is learning along side your students – you will be teaching yourself more than anybody else!

There are plenty of times you will have to stop and answer “I have no clue”,  but that shouldn’t stop you from searching for the answers, and then presenting it in a way that your students can understand.

Anymore, when I want to learn something, I try to figure out how I am going to teach it.  In developing the Arduino Course for Absolute Beginners material, I learned more about microcontrollers than I could have imagined when I started.

My most rewarding learning though is with a group of inner-city kids  in an after school program my church set me up with.  I continue to learn from teaching them what I really don’t know all that well.

What will you teach to learn?

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