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A Favorite Study Technique: Studying in Order to Teach Others

I have a lot of Course study techniques I like, and I wasn’t sure which one to write about for this month’s CCC theme. So I asked myself: “What single thing has improved my study skills and deepened my understanding of the Course’s thought system more than anything else?” The answer that immediately came was: “Writing all those Text commentaries for our Text class in 2006.” The truth is, I get the most out of my Course study when I’m studying in order to teach others. And the good news is that you can study in this way even if you’re not actually teaching others.

I remember that year well. Every fourth week for the whole year, I had to write five Text commentaries in a week, which was a really daunting task. (Robert wrote all the rest of the commentaries for the year, a superhuman feat as far as I’m concerned.) But though the task was daunting, the fact that I had to write these commentaries under a deadline for people who had paid good money for them brought me a great benefit: It forced me to use my study skills to the hilt. The fact that I needed to explain these sections to other people in a way that would be edifying and useful to them gave me an incentive to really dig in and mine everything I could out of those Text sections. I learned so much in the process. As the Course says, the way to really learn something fully is to teach it.

Of course, most Course students aren’t required to write commentaries for a Text class, so at first I thought this experience of mine wouldn’t be relevant for many people. But then I got to thinking: What if we all studied the Course as if we were going to have to present what we had learned to another person? Wouldn’t that help us be more attentive and get more out of what we read? Anyone who has ever had to prepare material to present to other people knows how much more effort you put into it than if you’re just trying to educate yourself. Studying the Course as if you were going to teach what you’ve learned to others is a study technique in its own right.

Here is my suggestion for how to use this technique: First, think of a person (or group of people) whom you can imagine as the recipient of what you are teaching. (When I write articles, I often have a specific person in mind.) Then, as you study, ask yourself questions like: How would I explain to this person what this paragraph or section says? (Hint: If you cannot explain it clearly, you almost certainly have more work to do.) How does this material address (and reverse) this person’s current beliefs? How can I show its relevance to his or her life? How would I instruct this person to apply this material? How would I summarize this material so that this person would really get it?

I find it truly amazing how much more I end up learning when I study with the intent of teaching material to others. And why should only those of us who teach the Course get that benefit? I encourage you to try this out and see how it works for you.