Four Levels of Learning To Make You a Better Teacher and Student

“However much thou art read in theory, if thou hast no practice thou art ignorant.” Sa’di (Gulistan, 1258)

There are probably a dozen levels of learning. But these four — broadly defined — may help you discover problems in the way you learn (or teach) things now.

1. Telling it

The teacher conveys his knowledge by explaining it. This method often provides the most ego gratification to the teacher and the most entertainment value to the student — but it is the teaching method that leaves the shallowest impression and is most easily forgotten. It is also the least effective way of teaching complicated skills that involve working in three dimensions.

2. Showing it

The teacher does more than talk in abstract terms. He demonstrates his knowledge. Sometimes, he shows pictures or diagrams of what he means. These visual clues help reinforce what he says and fill in the little gaps of misunderstanding or incomprehension that so easily arise when one is using only words. The student who is both told and shown something is much more likely to remember it.

3. Involving the student

When a teacher involves his student in the learning process by getting him to actually practice the skill, the learning goes deeper because all of the senses are involved. A student who has learned a skill by practicing it not only remembers its principles and elements but also understands how it feels.

4. Letting the student teach

The highest and final level of teaching is to supervise the student in teaching. Only when we teach a skill do we discover the limits of our knowledge and only by identifying the gaps can we fill them in.

Think of the mentoring you are doing now. Which of these methods are you using? Make a commitment to develop a program that involves all four levels of teaching: telling, showing, involving, and then letting your student teach.

Think of the learning you are doing now. Which of these methods are your teachers using? Make a commitment to get them to show you more and involve you more — and then start to teach what you have learned to others.

As I’m giving this advice, I’m thinking about the people I’m mentoring on a daily basis — KH, LH, WB, and GG — and I must admit I’m doing a mediocre job. On the plus side, I’m telling them very important truths about business and explaining very useful marketing secrets. On the negative side, I seldom show them examples or involve them and haven’t even thought about suggesting that they teach their newfound skills to anyone else.

But it is a good idea. I remember suggesting to someone that all newly trained customer-service people be asked to train someone — in what they just learned — before they commence with their work. I don’t think it was done, but it would have worked very well. I’m also thinking about the learning I’m doing — my French/Italian/Spanish, for instance. All I’m doing is reading textbooks. I’m hearing but not seeing … barely involved … and I haven’t even thought about teaching. Hmm.

(Oh, the shame of being a hypocrite!)

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]