• Cathryn Mattimore

Learn by Teaching



O’Donnell Learn is committed to discovering teaching methodologies that improve student success. We’ve found that one way to do this is by asking students to teach the very same material they’re attempting to master. By having students teach the material they’re learning, their comprehension levels dramatically improve. This idea is explained in greater length in Want Students to Remember What They Learn? Have Them Teach It by Elisabeth Stock


In this article, the author explains and presents various findings from psychological studies that researched the efficacy of peer instruction. One finding was that, “when students actually teach the content of a lesson, they develop a deeper and longer-lasting understanding of the material than students who do not teach it.” This finding is profound because it renders a practical way that educators can utilize as a concrete means to improve student success. Similarly, the study also found that “we can deduce that learning by teaching can potentially improve C students to a B+ or even an A-.” This drastic improvement in student performance simply cannot be overlooked and suggests that peer instruction should be incorporated more frequently. 


Clearly, there is value in peer instruction but how does this translate into a higher education online format? This is a question ODL is passionate about answering. Peer instruction works best in a synchronous modality, where students are paired, or put into small groups to solve a problem. So, you start with a quiz, or even just a single quiz question with no obvious right or wrong answer. Then you break your students into breakout groups--which is easily done in Zoom and other videoconferencing tools--and ask them to explain the reasons for their selected answer. Often this activity is capped by having the students retake the quiz and circling back to the instructor for clarification or additional feedback.  


Another practice is to have students record themselves teaching the material and post that to an online forum. As we’ve seen, peer instruction proves highly valuable, and a video recording is a way to bring this educational methodology to a virtual/online space. We have found this practice produces similar results than if this exercise was done in person. In this exercise, students can think through the material in greater depth because they have the ability to hit pause and teach in multiple takes. 


Through our experiences and research, ODL has become a strong advocate for the benefits of peer instruction. Empirical studies have shown that it one of the best ways to learn is to teach and that peer instruction often results in mastery. Moving forward, ODL intends to continue to innovate creative ways to incorporate peer instruction in our course designs.