Paul Jarvis

See one, do one, teach one

In medicine, there’s a teaching model for new surgeons known as “see one, do one, teach one” — it was started by William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins in 1890.

Before that, there was no formal training program for people cutting into other people in hospitals (scary, right?).

Folks interested in becoming surgeons were either self-taught (“Need your appendix removed? I read about it in a book, so I got this!”) or learned through apprenticing (“Hey teacher, show me how to remove an appendix”).

Countless studies have shown that people learn best when they are actively involved — either physically or mentally — during the learning process. So the more tactile or stimulating the teaching is, the more people learn. On the flip side, a whopping 5% of information from lectures is retained (because it’s just one person talking at others). The same amount of retention happens with simply reading something.

So why are people online rushing to skip the “do one” phase?

What I mean by that is the internet is chock full of people offering secondhand knowledge. Courses teaching us how to run a business from folks who read about running a business. Or webinars on marketing tricks from people who watched a course on marketing. Articles about a topic written by people who read an article on the topic, which was written by someone else who read an article on the topic, which was written… you get the point.

It’s like getting your appendix removed by someone who watched a video on YouTube. You wouldn’t sign up for that. Why? Because the person doing the operation has no firsthand experience.

So why is it ok for people to teach others without firsthand experience?

It’s not just giving students or readers info that isn’t based on doing, it’s also harming the person sharing or teaching because they skipped a step. They didn’t get to apply what they learned before they started sharing it. How can you truly understand something you haven’t tried?

In this rush to “share what we know” in content marketing, we can sometimes forget that “what we know” is different than “what we’ve actually done”. Maybe the rule should be “share what you’ve done” instead?

I’m not trying to dissuade people from writing and teaching online. Far from it. The world is absolutely becoming a better, more open, more accessible place because we’re all teaching others how to do things. No admission boards, no 6-figure student loans, no need to live in a country of privilege. We can all teach whomever will listen.

What I’m saying is that before you rush to write your next article or create a course that’s based on something you learned (not something you’ve done), take a step back. There’s no rush. Practice what you’ve learned a little. This will not only give you a better grasp on the subject, but it’ll show you what you actually, personally think about a subject. You’ll end up with a more unique and original take on things.

Don’t skip the middle step, it’s really important. You may not be removing appendixes, but you’re putting information out into the world that’s based on a tiny bit of retention instead of firsthand knowledge.

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