education learning by teaching (in German "Lernen durch
Lehren", therefore LdL) designates a method which allows
pupils and students to prepare and teach
or parts of lessons. Learning by teaching should not be confused
with presentations or lectures by students, as students do not only
convey a certain content, but choose their own methodological and
didactical approach in teaching their classmates a certain area of
the respective subject.
The principle of LdL is not new, it has already been part of the so-called
Lancaster-Schools. The first book about the topic was published in
1971 in the US by
Gartner and in Germany in
1975 by R. Krüger.
the method received broader recognition starting in the early eighties, when
Jean-Pol Martin developed the concept systematically for the teaching of
French as a
foreign language and gave it a theoretical background in numerous
publications. At the same time other educational theorists did research in this
The method spread from
1987 on, when Martin founded a network of several thousand teachers that
employed learning by teaching in many different subjects, documented its
successes and approaches and presented their findings in various teacher
From 2001 on LdL has gained more and more supporters as a result of
educational reform movements started throughout Germany.
The Evolution of the Method from 2001 on
|THE CLASSROOM AS A NEURAL
|Communication in the classroom
can be modelled upon neural networks, which gives rise to several questions:
- How do neural networks learn?
Learning takes place in the brain. Neurons establish stable long-term
connections. For example, the word 'mum' is being represented by a certain
constellation of neurons. The more often the word 'mum' is repeated, the more
frequently the neurons fire the corresponding impulses and thus strengthen the
- How do neural networks produce knowledge?
Neural networks produce knowledge by interacting. In the context of these
interactions new and more effective connections are formed (emergence).
- How can the model be transferred to the classroom activities?
The teacher should take care that the learners communicate intensely and
enter long-term relationships that are related to the subject matter. He has to
watch over the collective production of knowledge by the learners. This is done
most easily by small research-projects.
- Which conditions have to be fulfilled so that a neural network consisting
of humans functions?
The people involved must have fun while doing their tasks and feel the
collective spirit of the work in the sense of contributing to a better world (ethic motivation).
Communication must be fluent: that means, hurdles to communication have to be
removed. The easier and quicker the communication, the better. The
'brain-constructor' (teacher) must know the individual neurons well, so that he
can actively promote and enhance their relations and let them interact
resource-orientation. The more competent the individual neurons are, the
more competent the constructor, the better the 'collective brain' functions.
Therefore it is important, that the learner be taught the necessary basics of
behaviour, such as being friendly, reliable, quick etc.
Learning by teaching consists of two components: a general anthropological
one and a subject-related one.
- The anthropological basis of LdL is related to the
pyramid or hierarchy of needs introduced by
Abraham Maslow, which consists, from base to peak, of 1) physiological
needs, 2) safety/security, 3) social/love/belonging, 4) esteem/self-confidence
and 5) being/growth through
self-actualization and self-transcendence.
Personal growth moves upward through hierarchy, whereas regressive forces tend
to push downward. The act of successful learning, preparation and teaching of
others contributes to items 3 through 5 above. Facing the problems of our world
today and in the future, it is essential to mobilize as many intellectual
resources as possible, which happens in LdL lessons in a special way. Democratic
skills are promoted through the communication and socialization necessary for
this shared discovery and construction of knowledge.
- The subject related component (in foreign language teaching) of LdL
aims to negate the alleged contradiction between the three main components:
automatization of speech-related behaviour, teaching of cognitively internalized
contents and authentic interaction/communication.
After intensive preparation by the teacher, students become responsible for
their own learning and teaching. The new material is divided into small units
and student groups of not more than three people are formed. Each group
familiarizes itself with a strictly defined area of new material and gets the
assignment to teach the whole group in this area. One important aspect is that
Learning by teaching should not be confused with a student-as-teacher-centred
method. The material should be worked on didactically and methodologically
(impulses, social forms, summarizing phases etc.). The teaching students have to
make sure their
audience has understood their message/topic/grammar points and therefore use
different means to do so (e.g. short phases of group or partner exercises,
comprehension questions, quizzes etc.)
Most teachers using the method do not apply it in all their classes or all
the time. They state the following advantages and disadvantages:
- Student work is more motivated, efficient, active and intensive due to
lowered inhibitions and an increased sense of purpose
- By eliminating the class' division of authoritative teacher and passive
audience, an emotive solidarity is obtained.
- Students may perform many routine tasks, otherwise unnecessarily carried out
by the instructor
- Next to subject-related knowledge students gain important key qualifications
presentation and moderation skills
- The introduction of the method requires a lot of time.
- Students and teachers have to work more than usual.
- There is a danger of simple duplication, repetition or monotony if the
teacher does not provide periodic didactic impetus.
Learning by teaching in its different applications
The method learning by teaching is applied in all types of schools and in all
recommend it as an open and pupil-centred option. As a method for further
professional training it is for example used with the German "Bundesgrenzschutz"
(the Federal Border Guard) or in the professional education of librarians.
Furthermore there are experiences with special groups of students (highly gifted
ones) and in different cultures. Learning by teaching has been researched on a
scientific level by a group of researchers concerned with the workings of the
brain since 2001.
The method in different educational institutions
In Germany learning by teaching is used in different institutions with
different target groups:
- University: Students experience the opportunity for the
thinking toward group discovery and generation of knowledge. Research and
teaching can be combined harmonically and thus constitute the ideal of
teaching. As required by today's working conditions, the initial limitation of
detailed and exhaustive material to a core knowledge has proved to be
successful. Later, students research subtopics according to team interests. As a
rule LdL can be used in each course and with every student group (a group of 15
to 35 participants has proven best).2
Cf. also the article
Learning By Teaching: The Didactic Model LdL in University Classes
- Grammar Schools: Learning by teaching was developed at
grammar schools, therefore most practical experience with this method was
gained in this type of school (the German Gymnasium is a secondary
school, comprises classes 5-12 or 13 and leads to an exam which enables students
to go on to university). This demand is due to the fact that the focus in the
education and training of these teachers was on theoretical knowledge of their
respective subject matter as opposed to teaching skills and methods. So they
have a high need for
concepts. Furthermore, LdL is seen as a more cognitive approach in contrast to
others like, for example, learning circles or freely chosen work.
- German Realschule: (a secondary school from class 5-10 which leads to
an exam that enables students to go on to professional training on a higher
level). Education at this kind of school aims not only at theoretical and
scientific knowledge, but wants to prepare students in a practical way for the
working world. Using the method learning by teaching they acquire necessary key
qualifications like independence, perseverance, flexibility, care, diligence and
the skill to present themselves and their material. An advantage for teachers
lies in the fact that the use of LdL can create and promote diversity and
creativity in the classroom.
- German Hauptschule (a secondary school attended from age 10 to 16
which leads to a compulsory exam that enables students to go on doing an
apprenticeship). The practical orientation of these schools and their students
offers great opportunities for utilization of LdL throughout a complete
"Hauptschul"-curriculum. The advantages of a student-activating approach are
obvious as many of these students have faced educational failures and may
therefore be reluctant to work in more traditionally structured classrooms. They
can regain self confidence, pleasure in learning and obtain immediate
through independent presentations to peers.
Learning by teaching from the perspective of several sciences
Brain research: Learning is an organic process of the brain: The
coordinated interaction of molecular, cellular and systemic neural processes in
cooperating subsystems of motoric, sensoric and association. Limited to a
special time, individual dispositions for selective capabilities unfold, which
involve motoric thinking relevant to the
prefrontal cortex in categories of space and time, the lateralified
language and art skills and
limbically induced behaviour which is dependent on motivation and
is shown that
1) learning happens in small and big
selectively stabilize by a connection of structure and function;
2) Learning follows the rules of activity-dependent reorganization and is always
exclusively carried by individual motivational and emotional dynamic and neither
IQ nor EQ alone, but both together are the requirement for successful learning;
3) sensomotoric and associative circles are involved completely and in a
self-amplifying way into the learning process by the individual, which
necessarily means „learning by teaching“.3
The further development
The central dimension, which should be moved forward by the usage of this
method, is the capability to communicate, to generate knowledge together: cf.
communication (lessons). Here, the group is considered a
neural network which in
knowledge as emergence (also cf.:
collective intelligence). Thus also the resource orientation deals with this
A change in paradigm - the society of knowledge
There is a remarkable parallel between the construction of knowledge during
learning by teaching and the construction of an internet-encyclopaedia.
Schoolmates are stimulated into focused examination and contribution to the
incomplete knowledge discovered and presented by their non-expert peers. In
analogous fashion, internet-encyclopedia users may contribute critically, since
they consider themselves as representative readers requiring further
clarification, correction, or a more current representation of the knowledge
base. The democratization of users makes it possible to continue the exponential
growth of public domain knowledge in the encyclopaedia. This new form of
recording, discovery and construction of mankind's knowledge reflects the change
from a society of experts who expand upon knowledge and pass it to dependent
consumers or students, to a society of knowledge workers, where all of those
wishing to participate are involved in collective construction and/or
consumption, within their chosen fields of interest, within the ever-emerging
knowledge base of the public domain. This follows the historical advances and
gradual democratization trend of the production and consumption of knowledge,
from the development of language, writing, the printing press, educational,
scientific and other specialty group publications and communications, popular
lay publications, telegraph, telephone, moving pictures, television, internet,
New skills are expected of teachers
1. Because the class is structured like a neural network (sitting in a
halfcircle or circle is a precondition) and the communication between pupils
gets more and more intensive, the teacher has to get used to recognize the main
facts of each contribution and to put them in relation to others. He becomes the
organizer of collective reflection and has to steer the flow of thoughts
carefully to the course‘s objective without intervening too much. Thus he has to
focus on contents, but he has to intervene in the first place on the level of
process, so that the communication between pupils (metaphorically: neurons)
works fast and directly.
2. As the organizer of collective reflection the teacher has to be sure that
it leads to a goal, which is the absorption of new material by the whole class.
Hence at he beginning of the lesson there might be an indefiniteness of contents
(no linearity) and in the classroom clarity (linearity a posterion) should be
created step by step by working together. A good preparation for the profession
of a teacher would therefore be an activity like serving as host of a discussion
board, which is about constructing knowledge step by step out of chaotically
incoming information. The final point in a transformation of the class to a
neural network should be a
complex structure, which would be more capable of
self-organization. According to this concept, successful communication will
be the main attribute of problem solvers in the future – many researchers
consider this the requirement to a 6th Kondratjeff - Jean-Pol Martin continues
developing his concept.
1 e.g. Renkel, 1997; and a publication in the magazine Pädagogik,
2 An empirical report with theoretical background, practical advice
and bibliographical reference (in German) can be found at
LdL: Vorbereitung auf die Wissensgesellschaft an der Uni
3 The text was taken with permission from the homepage of Prof. Dr.
Gertrud Teuchert-Noodt (2003)
, from this site: Learning by doing: Physiological foundations of