Education resources › Blog › Can using technology enhance the Protégé Effect?

Can using technology enhance the Protégé Effect?

Can using technology enhance the Protégé Effect?

4 min read
  • Phones & technology
  • Study skills & exam prep
  • The science of learning

This blog was written by Dr Claire Badger, Assistant Head, Teaching & Learning at The Godolphin and Latymer School.

Learning by teaching, or the Protégé Effect, is a well-studied aspect of generative learning whereby teaching someone else a topic enhances your own understanding of that topic. Psychologists suggest that this could be due to a “social presence” effect where learners are more motivated to fully understand a topic as they have to explain it clearly to others.

However, presenting to others adds a level of anxiety associated with public speaking which could potentially reduce learning. A recent study shows how utilising technology in this process can maintain the positive benefits of teaching others whilst removing the distractions caused by teaching face-to-face.

Meet the author

Claire Badger

Claire Badger has been Assistant Head and in charge of Teaching & Learning at Godolphin & Latymer School since 2015. She has a keen interest in developing evidence-informed practices within schools and recently completed a Masters in Teaching & Learning with the Institute of Education focusing on developing metacognitive skills in Sixth Form students. Claire is also a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, which she represents on the ISC Digital Strategy Group.

What does the research say about The Protégé Effect?

Participants were shown a video on the process of chemical synaptic transmission and were told they needed to prepare a short presentation to teach others with no prior knowledge of the topic, and that they and their “students” would need to answer questions on the topic afterwards to assess teaching effectiveness.

Participants were split into three groups:

  • Group 1 – Teach to camera
  • Group 2 – Teach one student face to face
  • Group 3 – Teach a group of seven students face to face

After the lesson, participants then completed tests to assess their level of understanding of the content and surveys to assess their awareness of social presence, anxiety levels, cognitive load and motivation and interest. Physical arousal during the presentations was also measured.

The study found that the teach-to-camera group performed significantly better on a transfer test and engaged in significantly more generative processing in comparison to the other two groups. The teach-to-camera group also reported significantly lower social presence and experienced lower arousal, as measured by pulse rate suggesting that the presence of a live audience increases extraneous processing associated with dealing with anxiety and increased emotional arousal, which in turn increased cognitive load and reduced the capacity for generative processing (i.e., making sense of the material to be learned).

Although there were differences between the teach-to-one-student and teach-to-seven-students groups, the researchers concluded “that adding more students to face to face teaching did not affect most key measures of learning or teaching.

Boost your students’ study skills and give them the best chance at academic success, with an evidence-informed workshop.

Applications in the classroom

Having students teach each other concepts is a common teaching technique. For example, asking students in groups or as individuals to give a class presentation following some independent research, or “jigsaw activities” where students are split into 4-6 groups with each group becoming an expert in a particular sub-topic. Groups are then rearranged so that the new groups contain an expert in each subtopic who teaches the others their subtopic.

This research suggests that rather than asking students to teach their peers live, it may be more effective to ask them to create a video as this reduces the social anxiety associated with live presentations.

I used to ask students to produce class presentations but found it difficult to justify the time spent in lessons on the presentations themselves; it was difficult to maintain student attention during the presentations and I felt that the learning was very inefficient. Since working in a school where each student has their own iPad, I have adapted my teaching and now ask students to create a video presentation or screencast. I have found screencasts to be more effective as students can talk over images or write on a screen without having to appear in the video themselves. Even then, I found that social anxiety crept in with students hating the sound of their own voice, although in my experience this does tend to diminish over time. Students usually create the videos for homework and rather than playing every video to the class, I will pick a few good excerpts to share, thus saving class time. Having read this research, I intend to slightly shift how I set up these tasks to emphasise that the videos will be used to teach others, which should better harness the “social presence effect’” and increase learner motivation.

Watching all the student videos does take time, so it’s important to choose carefully which topics will be best suited to video presentations. I teach Chemistry and tend to use this technique for processes that I know can take time for students to fully comprehend, particularly processes where it is possible to follow a method without fully understanding why the method works, for example organic mechanisms and calculations. By asking students to explain what they are doing and why and point out common errors and how to avoid them, I get a much better insight into their thought processes than when I take in written work.

In a world of generative AI, it’s also an excellent way to ensure that students are doing the thinking for themselves rather than outsourcing this to a chatbot, although I’m sure in the not-too-distant future AI will be able to create convincing presentations using the student’s own voice!