Explanatory activities enhance our understanding

I have been studying the effects of explanatory activities for many years.

The noun “explanation” is defined as the act of telling others what you know, and generally, most people would be interested in how to explain things clearly.

However, what I have been focusing on is not the techniques for explaining things, but what is happening inside the person who explains by making an act of explanation.

For example, you may have had an experience of getting things you did not understand well in order or clarifying things that were unclear while you are explaining something to someone.

This is because you can enhance your understanding or discover something new by being in a situation where you have to make others understand your thoughts.

In this way, explanatory activities generate some changes inside us daily, and this psychological change can be applied in the field of education to improve learning effects.

Most of the classes held at universities are online presently because of the coronavirus pandemic. Online classes include two types: on-demand classes which are recorded and uploaded by teachers and watched by students at their convenience, and real-time classes in which teachers distribute lectures watched by students at the same time.

I surveyed students who had viewed my on-demand content, and many of them answered that it was easy to understand and that they could understand it very well.

Then, I asked them about the details of the content, but most of them could not answer at all. There were many comments that, although they thought they had understood well, they realized they had not actually.

In other words, the learning effect of the on-demand class was not as good as expected.

So, what efforts can we make to overcome this situation and improve the learning effect of students? I think explanatory activities can be one solution.

Explaining to others who have no knowledge is an effective method

Comparing those who explain something to others with those who do not, the former have a better understanding of the information in general.

It is also true that having someone without knowledge about the topic deepens the speaker’s understanding better, rather than having someone who knows a little about what is being explained.

As I mentioned earlier, the students who explained my on-demand content to me understood the content better than the students who just watched the lecture video. Also, the students who further explain the content to someone who does not know about my lecture at all, instead of me, will be able to deepen their understanding even more.

So, I gave the students an assignment to make a video explaining what I talk about in my lecture, assuming that high school students would watch the video. I instructed them to make a video instead of a report because I wanted them to more realistically picture possible viewers who would listen to their explanations.

Enhancing their own understanding by these explanatory activities will lead to the improvement of their learning effects.

By the way, should such efforts be made only for online classes, and none required for face-to-face classes? This is not true at all. This is because in the classroom, students mostly have opportunities to explain to others who know the content of the lecture.

For example, lecturers often give students questions and make them answer or explain during their lectures. However, it is not just about lecturers giving questions, but also classmates have good knowledge about such questions and answers because they are attending the same lecture.

Therefore, more attempts are needed to enhance the understanding of students who answer questions.

For instance, dividing students into a few groups, making them investigate, and letting them make a presentation in front of other groups in a class do not just enhance their ability to deliver a presentation, but also improve their own comprehension by making them explain what they researched to people without knowledge on the topic.

I made the same attempt in my live online class. I have found that explanatory activities can be more effective in live or face-to-face classes than in on-demand classes.

This is because, for example, students can change what they say or how they explain immediately according to the reaction from viewers. That means, new understanding or comprehension is happening inside the person who is explaining.

Explanatory activities can be used in fields other than education

Many schools are now forced to take online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, we have heard from many people that the learning effect of online classes is low or that they want to go back to face-to-face classes soon.

However, it is more important to consider how to improve the learning effect, no matter what the lecture style is.

For example, in terms of explanatory activities, I mentioned that the live class is more effective than the on-demand type, but the on-demand type has characteristics that the live type and the face-to-face class do not have. You can watch the on-demand type at any time repeatedly, and it can be played at double the speed.

This is still under study, but I assume that students who watch a video at double the speed and students who view a video at normal speed have little difference in learning effect.

In fact, students can view the same lecture twice at double the speed in the same length of time. I think it is more meaningful this way.

Moreover, we may be able to improve the learning effect by using on-demand-type classes even after face-to-face classes are resumed.

For instance, hybrid classes are considered to be a style that can be taken outside of the classroom by delivering face-to-face classes simultaneously. We believe that hybrid classes utilizing on-demand methods can be used to provide effective flip teaching.

In other words, if you upload the content of a lesson beforehand, students can check the content in a short time at a convenient time with double-speed playback. Then, you will be able to spend more time on questions and answers in actual classes.

However, watching at double speed is exhausting and requires a lot of concentration, and we need to further examine how effective these hybrid classes can be.

But I think that the spread of online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic should be a good opportunity to consider how to utilize the positive aspects of each type of class from the perspective of improving the learning effect, rather than simply comparing it with conventional face-to-face classes.

What the new Curriculum Guidelines states is “proactive, interactive and deep learning.”

Of course, there should be a certain amount of prerequisite knowledge. If students need to learn one hundred things, they must complete those first.

Then, you need to give students opportunities to use them so that they will become able to use the knowledge effectively. That is to say, having the experience of explaining using the knowledge or explaining the knowledge itself is an effective method.

In this sense, explanatory activities lead to a proactive, interactive and deep learning, which can be adopted in any form of teaching and can be made even more effective by a hybrid approach.

I think, in ordinary social life too, it is effective to know that understanding is promoted by explanatory activities.

In communications within a company, for example, people tend to think that everything they mentioned was properly communicated to the other party. People who listen to them also tend to think they totally understand what they hear. But they may be misunderstanding.

If you understand this, you will be able to have careful alignments and communications.

In addition, having a section chief explain to the staff in the section what a manager said is effective to improve the section chief’s understanding, for example.

Understanding the mechanism of explanatory activities, in which you deepen your own understanding by explaining to others, can be used very effectively in the management of an organization.

* The information contained herein is current as of May 2022.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.