Lieberman described a critical time when he was working on his doctorate. He had to prepare for the comprehensive examination, a major hurdle in doctoral studies. This exam would determine whether or not he could continue on the path toward earning a doctoral degree. Lieberman was not in this boat alone. Several other graduate students also were facing the upcoming comprehensive exam. Instead of trying to review and master the material individually, the graduate students organized. They took different topics, learned those topics upside-down-and-backwards, and then taught each other. All passed.
Lieberman used this example from his life to illustrate the “social view” of learning (not to be confused with Bandura’s Social Learning Theory). He cited research from Yale in which students thought they were learning material to teach others. These students actually performed better on a test than those who were simply tested on something they had read individually.
Lieberman’s fMRI research suggests the brain functions differently depending on whether the learning is individual, such as preparing for a test, or learning for social reasons, such as teaching something to others. In other words, if you really want to learn something, teach others.
As a professor, I teach others and I learn a lot. I agree with Lieberman’s premise. In my classrooms, I emphasize student-centered learning, active learning, authentic learning, collaborative learning. I try to facilitate students learning from each other. In nearly all my classes, students sit in groups and learn in groups.
The social view of learning could be transformational not only in education but also in corporate training. Think about the training provided by your organization. Is it on-line with no interaction? With interaction? What about the corporate classroom? Is instruction in the “classic” push mode, here’s the information, fill your mind, learn it. Or doe the social view come to the forefront?
My guess is that the key is in the give-and-take. Much learning, real learning, can come from the shared examples, stories, and clarifying comments among those who are doing the learning. The challenge for those of us in the role of “teacher”, whether in education or training, is to find ways, creative ways, to enact the social view of learning.
Lieberman, M. D. (2014, April 18). Learning from others. The Chronicle Review, B4-B5.
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