The Lifelong Study-Buddy Practice

courtesy Allan Ajifo via Flickr Creative Commons I was having a fascinating discussion with a neuropsychologist, an nurse anesthetist, and a GrandMaster competitive pistol marksman (I know, sounds like the start of a joke, right?) about the differences between good and bad educators. In all of our fields we had consistently seen the phenomenon of the person who was a great “doer” asked to teach how they do what they do. And more times than not, they fall flat in terms of being able to pass on their expertise.

There are many reasons why that might happen – I wish I could have recorded the whole conversation, because it was fascinating. But one particular aspect of it stood out in that we all agreed: the experts who became good teachers were the ones who could still think like a novice. It was the ability to step out of their conditioned, “we-know-what-happens-next” mentality and into the “wonder-what’s-next?” brain of the novice that made their courses and skillshares the most effective.

That being the case, the question becomes: how can we keep in touch with our own “beginner’s mind”?

Expert Teaching: Just Add Humility

In the interest of not re-inventing the wheel, I’m going to point out that Adam Dachis of has already written a great article with several techniques for reproducing “Beginner’s Luck.” Of course, luck has very little to do with it – it’s actually more confirmation bias than anything else – but there are some techniques that help you look at a situation with “new” eyes. The thing is, some of them are sort of…vague.

  • In every situation, consider what you’ve seen before and what’s different. You can approach similar situations with your expertise, but don’t apply that same experience to anything new.

Um…I think that with those parameters, you would have to consider the entire sum of your experience. That could be a bit time-consuming. I did like his suggestion for when to follow your gut, though:

  • If you find yourself under pressure and over-thinking, listen to your gut instead of your brain. If you’re under-thinking and acting too quickly, step back and take a moment to consider your options.

Three Steps to Rebooting Your Brain

I, however, have my own suggestion for how to not only think like a novice but also how to take advantage of the benefits of teaching what you’ve just learned. Think of this as a practical suggestion for making hard times happier – and one you can do almost immediately, if you find a partner.

  1. Pick out something unusual to learn – that is, something outside of your normal habits. Maybe how to fold an unusual origami creature. How to build a pinewood derby. How to recite Shakespeare in Klingon.
  2. Learn it. Learn it to the point where you can do it, or talk about how to do it, without referencing notes.
  3. Find your learning buddy, and teach them what you’ve just learned.

That’s it. By picking out something unusual – something outside your normal purview – you are putting yourself in the position of being a beginner again. It may be uncomfortable at first, but getting over that discomfort is also a useful skill that will enable you to develop new skills.

As you learn the new subject, knowing that you’re going to have to teach it, you will automatically sort through the information and chunk it into a plan for teaching:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.
– Nestojko et al., 2014

Best of all, by remembering how it feels to learn something new – and see someone else learn it – you are exercising your ability to learn and making it stronger, more flexible, and more adaptable.

So: what are you going to learn to teach? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Big Kudos to the newest LLP Patron,
Evan Page!
You can be as cool as him! (almost).


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