The Shortcut To Mastering ANY Lesson You’re Struggling With

If you’re struggling to learn a lesson, there’s an excellent way to master it very quickly: teach it.

That’s right. If you really want to feel like you’ve mastered a lesson, then there’s no quicker way to do so than to teach the lesson to someone else.

The Shortcut To Mastering ANY Lesson You’re Struggling With

As you may know, I’m an eager student of life and the writing process. And, as a student, whenever I find myself struggling with a lesson, I make myself teach it to others.  I have found that teaching a lesson I’m trying to learn accelerates the learning process for me and, in no time, I’m able to master the lesson.


Well, when I take on the role of a teacher I feel obligated to know the lesson backwards and forwards. I need to know more about the lesson than the student does. If I don’t, my student can tell, and after one lesson, he won’t be coming back.

And that’s just a huge waste of time for both the student and me.

The Four Little-Known Stages of The Learning Process

What do I mean by knowing a lesson “backwards and forwards”?

Well, it’s best to explain it to you by first teaching you the four little-known stages of the learning process:

1. The Student Is Informed Of The Lesson

This is the first and most basic stage of the learning process.

In this stage, the teacher might write on a chalkboard:

”2 + 2 = 4.”

The teacher then might tell the student:

“2 + 2 = 4.”

At this stage of the learning process, the student has only been informed about the lesson: he recognizes the lesson on a purely superficial level. The student sees the marks on the chalkboard and gets that these marks tell a truth, but he still can’t implement that truth for himself.

The student fails to understand, for example, what “2 + 2” has to do with anything else in his life.

So, if the student were to stop by a grocery store, for instance, and try to purchase four apples for himself, he wouldn’t be able to figure it out. He wouldn’t be able to see the connection between the lesson he learned in class and how to implement that lesson in real life.

The student hasn’t fully learned the lesson yet; he has just been informed about it.

2. The Student Understands The Lesson

The second stage in the learning process is understanding the lesson.

This is when the teacher draws two apples on the chalkboard, and then draws another pair of apples next to the first pair.

The teacher points to the four apples, and then points to the equation:

“2 + 2 = 4”, she repeats.

At this stage, the student finally understands the lesson:  the teacher is talking about addition!  When you “add” something to something, you get more of that something. Just like when you add two apples to two apples, you get four apples!

At this point of the learning process, the student finally “gets it.”

But just because the student “gets” the lesson that still doesn’t mean he knows it.

This leads us to Stage 3 of the learning process:

3. The Student Knows The Lesson

The third stage in the learning process is when we come to “know” a lesson.

This is when the student can go visit the grocery store all by himself and can pick up two apples, and then pick up two more apples, until he knows that he’s holding a total of four apples in his hands.

At this point, the student knows how to apply what the teacher has taught him in real life:  he hasn’t just been informed about the lesson, he hasn’t just understood the lesson—he knows the lesson.

The student knows how to gather four apples at the grocery store because he knows that 2 + 2 = 4.

His actions correspond directly with the equation he learned in class.

4. The Student Lives The Lesson

This is the stage in which the student can go and gather four apples at the grocery store without really thinking about the equation the teacher once taught him in school.

The process of gathering four apples at a grocery store is now effortless and happens without much thought on the student’s part. It’s an automatic response: something that happens with almost no doubt, hesitation, or discernment.

At this level, the student has reached true mastery of the lesson:  the lesson “2 + 2 = 4” comes so naturally to him now that it’s like riding his bike, or brushing his teeth. It comes so easily to him, and is so engrained into his daily routine, that he rarely even notices that he’s engaging in a lesson that he was taught in school.

Knowing That There Are Four Stages To The Learning Process Can Help You Get Unstuck

For the most part, all of us quietly go from one stage of the learning process to the next. But I’ve noticed that most of us get stuck at Stage 2.

Many of us get stuck at Stage 2 because we think that if we’ve simply “understood” a lesson that that’s enough to say we’ve “learned” the lesson. Others might get stuck at Stage 2 because they’re completely unaware that there are four stages to the learning process to begin with—and they just don’t know any better.

But it’s really not until AFTER we’ve gone through Stages 3 and 4 of the learning process that we can say that we’ve truly mastered a lesson.

Teaching Accelerates The Four Stages

Teachers, unlike the rest of us, are acutely aware of the four stages of the learning process (whether they realize it or not).

Teachers know that if they want to be good at their jobs they can’t just be informed about a lesson, and they can’t just have a basic understanding of the lesson. No, they must know the lesson and have it be so engrained in them that the lesson comes to them organically, effortlessly, and easily—they must know how to live the lesson.

This is why, if you’re struggling to learn a lesson, you need only to teach it to someone else to master it quickly.

This is because teaching a lesson forces you to bypass the first two stages of the learning process and lands you in the last two: you go directly from simply being informed about a lesson and understanding a lesson, to knowing and living a lesson.

Stages 3 and 4 are deeper levels of the learning process, and it’s often only teachers who visit these deeper levels on a regularly basis.


Because they can’t execute their job effectively if they don’t. A teacher has to know their subject backwards and forwards if they plan to know more about the subject than their own student. Because if a teacher doesn’t know more about a subject than their own student, then they’re in big trouble.

Teach In Order To Master

If you want to accelerate the learning process, I recommend that you become a teacher. Try teaching the very lesson you’re trying to master. This will accelerate the learning process and will make you an expert on the subject in no time.

much teach,


If you are struggling with a particular lesson, try investigating what stage of the learning process you’re in. If you’re only at Stage 2 of the learning process, try teaching the lesson you’re struggling with. See if that doesn’t get you to mastery right away.

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16 comments on “The Shortcut To Mastering ANY Lesson You’re Struggling With

  1. This is so true!

    Actually very illuminating, because finally it’s clearly spelled out. and so easily applicable to everything.

    Thanks so much for giving us life lessons:)

    Have a great weekend.

  2. Such good advice, Ollin. in teaching and ensuring we can answer questions, we live the material.

  3. Divya says:

    Interesting post, love the apple example. Tell me, does this apply to learning all the lessons that life has to teach as well? 😉

    • Ollin says:

      Of course! This applies to writing and to life. If you are struggling with a life lesson, try to see if you can teach it to others–usually that gets you to mastery in no time.

  4. sorrygnat says:

    wonderful post

  5. Ollin, this is a great reminder than telling is not teaching and learning=behavior change. The student has to feel the need and readiness to learn.I totally agree that teaching is a great motivator for one’s own learning. Here’s a mantra about teaching~”fill your head and be yourself.” You are an awesome teacher and guide,Ollin. Thanks for all you do to enlighten and inspire us all!

  6. Well presented. As a former teacher, I can vouch for these steps to be true and utterly necessary. Any effective lesson plan has to embody presentation of the material but then synthesis and application of it for it to really be reinforced in the students’ minds as meaningful knowledge. And, as you say, that’s how teachers learn as well – through the very act of instructing. As a fellow lifelong learner, nothing expands my knowledge faster or deeper than guiding others. Even during these recent years when I’ve (temporarily, I think) foregone teaching in the classroom for writing and editing, it wasn’t until I needed to put my teacher hat on again to instruct other authors in their craft that I became much better at my own writing. Really says something about how much better we function when interacting with and helping others versus trying to grow in isolation.

    • Ollin says:

      I loved your last point monkey. What a great observation. Never thought of it that way but you’re right: we learn better with others and not in isolation!

  7. jjbrouckaert says:

    Absolutely true. I’m a writer who sort of stumbled into writing without really learning all of the rules first. Much like grammar, it sort of just came naturally. I’ve learned many of them on the fly, but there are some technical aspects I didn’t completely grasp until I began teaching (volunteering to lead a creative writing workshop at a local prison). It’s a completely different way of looking at things.

  8. Yvette Carol says:

    What an interesting thought Ollin. My whole life I’ve always thought ‘who am I to tell anyone anything?’ and I’ve always been more comfortable in the student role. Do you think that to teach others requires a great deal of self confidence? Or is the opposite, does it actually require humility?
    Yvette Carol

    • Ollin says:

      Good questions. I think it does require confidence AND humility. Confidence to feel that you are a master of what you studied and prepared for the students, and humility in that your students also teach you things too! I think it’s best not to think about it and just jump right in. You can start by teaching a loving friend or family member so you get more comfortable with it.

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