Here’s a post I had written in 2010 on another site. Happy to share my thoughts here with you.
Many people strive to find better ways of learning in order to be able to learn better, faster, to retain more and to understand more. So in my question, “How does one become a better student?” my own answer would be by teaching others what we know.
We all suppose that we will not know unless we are taught and so believe that we cannot teach unless we have been taught well. But each of us is unique and have a unique burden to bear when it comes to the lessons we are supposed to learn, the niches we’re supposed to master and then the things we are able to then teach others.
In the end, what we know is actually not the sum of what we’ve learned but the cumulative momentum of what we were destined to learn and to continue in our pursuit of mastery. We do not need to master every thing nor do we need to know everything well. We only need to understand and pursue one thing towards mastery and to know several other things well enough. In the end all Knowing interweaves into each other and are paths towards All-Knowing.
Thus, to be a good student is to first be in pursuit of that which we were meant to pursue, both as a pursuit towards mastery or merely to learn the thing well enough. When on that trajectory of learning what we were meant to learn we become better at understanding it by sharing what we’ve learned i.e.teaching it to others.
For the sake of simplifying things I divide learning into fundamental learning and higher order learning. All higher order learning is instinctive, innate and intrinsic. Fundamental learning is the memorization of a technique of thinking or expression mastered by others and to use those handed down methods for oneself, for instance, mathematical equations and language. When higher order thinking even in Mathematics and language is required a new formula, theory or word has to be thought up and mastered by oneself for use and this in turn will add to the body of methods in Fundamental Learning for others in the future.
To become a great student at anything is to always teach what we wish to learn. This may sound like an irony that we teach what we are learning. How can we teach something we only know so little about? If all you have learned on a piano are 5 keys then you teach those 5 keys that you know and everything that you know about those 5 keys to the next person who wants to learn and knows absolutely no keys.
Teaching is not lecturing. Teaching is not trying to be an authority on the subject. Teaching is not about having nor expecting an audience. Teaching isn’t about having the final say. The word teaching here is used in its original context, as the compassionate face of humility in sharing. In our modern world the word “Teaching” has been perverted and bastardized to mean an authority that is both Judge and Jury and one who expects an audience and doesn’t expect to be questioned.