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What is the Protégé Effect, and how does it work?

What is the Protégé Effect, and how does it work?

3 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed
  • The science of learning

The great Philosopher Seneca said: “while we teach, we learn”. The Protégé Effect is the idea that, when students explain study material to others, it reinforces their understanding.

So, now we understand what the Protégé Effect is, what specific benefits does it bring, and how can students use it effectively?

The benefits of the Protégé Effect

Encourages the use of effective learning strategies

In a recent study, participants were split into different groups before studying a passage of text. One group were told that they were studying for a later test, whereas the other group were told that they were studying in preparation to teach the content to another student.

The researchers found that, when students prepared to teach another, they were able to recall more information from the passage, particularly regarding the main points. These students used more effective learning strategies, such as weighting and organising the information well, and considered how it all fitted together. This meant it was more likely that the material would be transferred to their long-term memory for later recall.

Encourages metacognitive processing

In one interesting study, all students had to solve a complex maths problem, but some students were learning by preparing to teach whilst others were “learning for learning”. The researchers found that those who were learning by preparing to teach used 1.3 times more metacognitive strategies when solving the maths problem in comparison to those who were “learning for learning”.

It has been theorised that when preparing to teach, individuals want to ensure that they are as proficient as possible in explaining the concept to others, so use metacognitive strategies when learning to give themselves a deeper understanding of the task and its content.

Increases motivation

Research which divided students in two groups, one who believed that they were teaching an avatar known as a Teachable Agent (TA) and the other who believed they were learning for themselves, showed that when students are learning to teach someone else, they put in more effort (e.g. reading around the subject) and hence learn more themselves. This sort of approach is arguably more effective than the old school ‘carrot’vs ‘stick’ form of motivation.

This effect is particularly pronounced for low-achieving students who, through teaching another, were able to develop an understanding of complex content that was of the same level as high-achieving students who didn’t have a TA. When students have a TA, they feel a sense of responsibility, which increases their motivation to learn.

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How can students use the Protégé Effect?

One way in which students can use the Protégé Effect is to revise the material they want to learn with the intention of teaching it to someone else (i.e. a family member or class-mate). This benefits both the learner and the one doing the teaching.

How can teachers use the Protégé Effect?

Another suggestion is that, at the start of the lesson, the teacher informs the class that at least one of them will be required to teach at the end. Having been given this information, but not the name of the student who will be teaching, all students show improvements in their learning as they are prompted to learn as if they have to teach. However, research has shown that teaching others rather than just preparing to teach others, gives more benefits such that students get a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material.

Advances in technology mean that students can use the Protégé Effect more easily. One such example of this is through the use of avatars. We recently stumbled upon something called Betty’s Brain, which is a piece of downloadable software that uses the avatar Betty to improve student’s learning of science topics, as students not only have to learn for themselves but also to teach Betty.

Final thought

Getting students to teach each other, hence harnessing the Protégé Effect, is a relatively quick and easy way to increase student motivation and encourage the use of more effective and metacognitive learning strategies. Teachers should look to harness the positive outcomes from the protégé effect by setting up mentoring schemes or by asking their classes to make educational videos to teach each other.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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