Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur has developed a learning technique which he has found to triple students’ learning in comparison to a conventional lecture. Instead of trying to explain complex physics concepts to students, he asks them a question which will show who already understands the concept. He then gets the students who got the answer right to explain it to those who got it wrong. There’s a lot of noise, but also a lot of learning that goes on in this interaction. Within minutes, the recent learners have taught the rest of the class how to solve the problem – while the lecturer could have spent the whole class on the same concept without the same results. Follow-up studies show that students recall the information for much longer using interactive learning than they do in standard lectures.
Mazur has tapped into the power of peer-to-peer learning. Learners make the best teachers. Someone who has recently grappled with and understood a new concept has fresh ways to teach others. The lecturer, on the other hand, learned the concepts so long ago they have forgotten which aspects were hard to understand, and can’t communicate as effectively to someone at a different level on the knowledge ladder. Mazur explains that when you become an expert in an area; “it becomes harder to teach, because you’re unaware of the conceptual difficulties of a beginning learner.” It’s easier to talk to a peer than to someone of higher status, so students are more able to admit their difficulties and ask questions when they need help. The students doing the explanation also benefit, as teaching is one of the most powerful ways to solidify learning.
If we could grasp this concept and use it in church, it would radically change the methods we use for teaching. Sermons simply aren’t tapping into the ability of God’s people to teach each other. If we re-structure the church meeting to facilitate people to share with one another what they have learned about God, it would engage people, empower people and challenge people. God’s people can learn more from each other than from any sermon.