Teaching someone is not easy. Sometimes it gets frustrating, especially when you’ve been repeating yourself over and over and they still don’t get it.
Between being a teacher and being a student, I’ve realized that the best teachers inspire AHA! moments. When the student really truly understands what you teach, and is then able to put two and two together to come to a new conclusion. It doesn’t even matter if the conclusion is right or wrong, what matters is the student took what was taught and applied them together to make something new.
From a student’s point of view, reaching those AHA! moments is getting sudden clarity and understanding. Like when a child figures out how two Lego blocks fit with each other and he can make a tower of blocks, or when he discovers that the Lego blocks can be joined partially and proceeds to make a more stable tower out of intersecting blocks.
That should be the goal of teacher: guiding students to these AHA! moments. Not shoveling information down their throats. With too much information, the student gets turned off. I’ve experienced both sides of it and it is so not fun for either party.
Of course, when you teach something to someone for the first time, you have to give a lot of facts at first, if not the student doesn’t even know where, when or how to ask questions about that subject. This is the learning curve.
Take for example Magic: the Gathering (MTG). When I teach MTG to new players, I use single coloured decks and only explain what they need to know to play the game. Then we play a simple game to go through the motions, let them ask questions and I answer them. Now comes the fun part: I start teaching them abilities on creatures, starting with Flying. Flying is a very simple and logical concept the grasp. The creature flies over creatures that don’t have flying and bonks your opponent on his head. It’s excellent to teach new players that creatures can have abilities. It also opens the door to explaining Flavour.
Next is First Strike. A creature with First Strike will deal damage first, before other creatures without First Strike. That’s logical too, although just a little bit more complicated. Lastly, Deathtouch. No matter how much damage a creature with Deathtouch deals to another creature, the damaged creature dies instantly.
Now experienced MTG players will already see the combination between First Strike and Deathtouch. However, I wouldn’t explain this combo to the new player. Rather, I’ll let him or her play with a deck that has both and let them discover the potent combo on their own.
The self discovery is an amazing feeling and is the reward for the work you put in to learn. Once they see one combo, their brain automatically gets wired to start seeing more and they can actively look for more interactions like these.
So the trick to teaching something is to teach parts of it in a vacuum and let the student discover how they connect. Give them enough knowledge to work with; they will eventually encounter a problem that requires the combination of two things taught and then they will find the connection.
I think the measure of whether you can teach something successfully or not is if you can see these AHA! moments for the student and guide them towards it.