You can teach anything. To anyone, anywhere, anytime.

This is not an exaggeration. The internet has provided us instant communication across the globe, yet very few students that I know have tapped into it's potential to provide a expansive community of learners who are ready for their daily dose of knowledge. Until now, teaching has been an art left to the masters– the ones who have attained such a high level of proficiency in their field that it is now their sacred responsibility to propagate this wisdom to the next generation. Teaching can be one of the most rewarding experiences that one can possibly ever have. The sleepless nights spent preparing quality material and re-re-revising material to ensure absolute perfection, the endless pondering on how to break down an idea into simpler and more intuitive ones, and the look on a student's face when the puzzle pieces come into place are all moments that everyone must experience at least once in their lives. Teaching, in it's own way, is one of the most sacred acts that a human can do.

However, there are aspects to teaching that transcend merely the redistribution of existing knowledge. My team and I at Elliptigon strongly believe that the teaching is the absolute best way to learn. Sounds contradictory, right? I mean, how can you teach something if you don't know it in the first place?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The key insight here is that you don't need to know everything on the very first go! Learning is an iterative process, with layers of knowledge and conceptual clarity stacking on top of each other as time passes. The saying "with age comes wisdom" certainly holds merit when viewed in this context. From this perspective, the notion of teaching is not one of osmosis (teacher passing down knowledge to a student) but one of parallel growth (both the producer and consumer of educational media gain insight, refinement, and clarity in already known topics).

There are a few key things I need to highlight at the outset to avoid any confusion or miscommunication:

  1. We are not suggesting (or claiming merits in) starting to teach a concept before gaining a fair understanding of it. This would prove to be an exercise in futility, and even worse, would lead to a diffusion of misinformation. Rather, we are proposing that teaching is an excellent way to refine and engrain existing knowledge.
  2. We are not suggesting that a student should forego traditional learning resources such as books, lectures, or videos. Quite the contrary - these are excellent and efficient methods of gaining a vast amount of knowledge in what would otherwise be (in the case of learning through trial and error) a long period of time. Rather, we are suggesting that one should, after completion of relevant material, put in the effort of teaching the concepts that have been learned to someone else in order to cement a deep understanding.
  3. The ideas that I'm presenting here are not new. The idea of teaching others in order to gain a better understanding yourself is at least as old as ancient Greek and Indian philosophers. Today, many people may know of this method as the Feynman learning technique.
The Feynman Learning Technique

If you haven't already, I highly recommend  that you watch the above video, as well as do a little more reading on  the Feynman learning technique, and why it's so incredibly powerful. It truly serves as an epitome of our views at Elliptigon on how to gain mastery of a concept, and even more broadly, how education should ideally be implemented- not as a hierarchical tree of factual flow, with inevitable partial distillation at each layer, but rather as an accumulating web of knowledge, with each node strengthening and reinforcing each adjacent one, eventually contributing to the emergent qualities of the web as a whole.

As amazing as the Feynman learning technique (learning through teaching) is, we believe that it can be made even better. On numerous occasions, I have observed a singular pattern when confronted with explanations of the Feynman learning technique as pertaining to the actual process of explaining a concept: most people suggest merely pretending to teach a concept, to an imaginary audience. In an earlier time, this would seem completely reasonable. It would certainly be difficult to find someone patient enough to listen to your semi-crafted explanations at length in-person! However, in the era of instant global communication that is the internet, this is no longer a valid excuse. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to teach another human being, get their feedback, and contribute a fraction of their insight, no matter how small, to the grand accumulation of human wisdom.  And the internet makes this more practical than ever.

A nice analogy for learning through teaching is to think of how information flows. As Elon Musk mentions in his interview with Sal Khan , education is essentially the downloading of data and algorithms into your brain. To take an example from file transfer, we could use 2 potential methods: getting data from a central server, or using a peer-to-peer file sharing system like Bittorrent. The reason that the peer-to-peer model is faster is because there are multiple seeds to serve you data rather than a single, giant server. While the analogy isn't perfect, it gets the point across- the more people there are teaching (seeds), the faster you learn.

The simplest thing that you could do is to start making education content and posting it online. The 2 most likely forms of media to make this come to fruition are articles and videos. My personal views are the following- it's easier to make a video than it is to write an article, but it's harder to make a great video than it is to write a great article. But take my words with a grain of salt. I'm not an expert at either, and I'm just getting started on this journey myself. However, considering that videos have a higher probability of capturing the current generation's interest, you should probably take a look at a guide from the master of educational content creation himself:

Sal Khan's guide on how to make educational videos

It soon becomes evident that the perceived inertia around starting to teach is probably just in the mind. The actual effort required is now less than ever before, and the reward, a mastery of the concept, comes for free! You don't need to set up a classroom, enroll students, assign a schedule, buy classroom material, or do any other administrative tasks to get your insights in front of the world. All you need to do is to start making content – today.