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Can making teaching materials help your students learn more?

Can making teaching materials help your students learn more?

3 min read
  • The science of learning

As more research emerges about how learning happens, it becomes more and more evident that the best strategies are adaptable and impactful. One area that has got a lot of interest is known as Generative Learning. But what actually is this? And how can we use it on a day-to-day basis?

Let’s take a closer look at some research on this…

What the research says

recent meta-analysis of 23 studies looked at how making teaching resources influenced student academic performance. It found that:

  • Creating teaching materials is slightly more effective for students than other studying techniques.
  • Audio-visual materials boost learning much more than written materials.
  • Having access to original resources to make their own teaching materials makes creating teaching materials ineffective for students’ learning.

This is not only further evidence of the Protégé Effect, which states that teaching others helps students learn, but also that simply preparing resources is enough to help boost learning. So, why is that?

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Why does creating teaching resources help students learn more effectively?

It involves Retrieval Practice

Even though these results state that creating teaching resources go beyond just utilising Retrieval Practice, it is still a part of it. In other words, creating teaching resources involves additional benefits on top of those gained from retrieval.

This happens because students are not only recalling information but also organising it in a way that others can learn from and selecting the most important pieces of information. This adds a deeper level of information processing compared to common Retrieval Practice methods.

However, involving Retrieval Practice is key here – as we can see from the results of the meta-analysis, basing their teaching material on existing resources negates the effect this strategy can have for students. Since they have to think harder about the information that they retrieve instead of copying it word for word, students can make stronger connections between what they recall and find it easier to remember in the long term.

Research has shown that students who were told that they were going to teach other students recalled more information and had more correct responses on a final assessment than those who were told they had to study for a test. These students also used more effective learning strategies that helped them organise information coherently.

It is a Generative Learning technique

Generative Learning is an active learning process that gets students to make connections between new information and knowledge they already have. Students make use of it when they prepare resources for their peers, as they need to integrate new knowledge with what they know and then convert this into a memorable format. From this, information can be transferred to their long-term memory much more easily.

As we can see from the meta-analysis results, the best type of resources students can create have both audio and visual components – for example, creating a PowerPoint presentation and preparing a verbal explanation of it. Even though students don’t have to present their teaching resources to their class, preparing to explain and elaborate on learning material gives them a deeper understanding of the content.

It helps boost students’ motivation

When students know that their peers are going to see their material (and potentially rely on it to learn), they unsurprisingly want to do their best work.

One study showed that students put more effort into learning new material (e.g., doing extra reading) when they expected to present it to someone else. This approach was highly effective for low-achieving students especially – they put in extra work to try and grasp new content, which led to a better understanding of complex material, on par with high-achieving students.

Furthermore, the results of the meta-analysis were consistent across age groups. This means students of all ages can get a motivation boost from creating their own teaching resources, and in turn, see improvements in their own progress.

Final thoughts

It is worth noting that this strategy needs to be carefully planned and structured. Left to their own devices, we run the risk of students preparing suboptimal resources and sharing and spreading misconceptions.

However, challenging your students to create their own teaching resources can be a fun, engaging classroom activity with great benefits for their learning. You could even take it to the next level by giving your students the opportunity to use their teaching resources in practice.