What is the Protégé Effect?

Last Updated: 15 September 2022

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Back before the institutional version of healthcare even existed, a philosopher named Seneca made this statement: ‘While we teach, we learn’ (Avery, 2018).

Despite the fact that he said this in the 1st Century AD, the concept – which is referred to as ‘the protégé effect’ – still resonates today, especially when it comes to healthcare!

What is the protégé effect?

The protégé effect occurs when someone puts in more effort to learn information when they know they’re going to teach it to someone else, as opposed to the effort they would put in if they were only learning it for themselves.

Those who teach other people actually end up consolidating the taught information in their own brains. In short, the student is not the only one benefiting from the teaching exercise.

What are the benefits of the protégé effect?

There are numerous benefits to the protégé effect, especially in a professional development setting. For instance, it’s been proven that when a professional mentors a colleague:

  • the professional – assuming the role of the teacher – consolidates information that they’ve previously learnt, meaning the information is refreshed in its accuracy and applicability to practice.

  • the colleague – assuming the role of the student – receives the information alongside professional context and the mentor’s professional experience with the topic, either regarding their own learning experiences or in-practice experiences.

The cascading mentorship model is another form of teaching that utilises the benefits of the protégé effect, while adding new benefits. In the cascading mentorship model, each student is providing mentorship to someone less experienced than them, and same goes for that person, and so on and so forth (Patel et al, 2021).

This means that everyone – even the most junior person – is involved in an active, peer-led exercise that empowers people on every level of experience to understand their own area of practice more deeply. They are also encouraged to practice their coaching skills, while also analysing the coaching they receive in order to improve their own skills.

How can you use the protégé effect in your learning?

The Rubber Duck Method

Instead of jumping straight into teaching an active listener, teach your content to a rubber duck (note: a teddy will also suffice).

Many engineers in Silicone Valley swear by this seemingly childish way of learning content: when code was becoming incredibly complex and they were running into issues they couldn’t solve, they would explain the situation to a rubber duck (Chris, 2022). The verbal processing that would occur would often loosen any mental knots surrounding the issue, and the engineer would talk themselves into a solution.

This can be a great tool for learning in healthcare: if you’re keen to utilise the benefits of the protégé effect – such as information consolidation and improved coaching skills – but worried about involving someone else in this first stage, the rubber duck method is the way to go.

The Classic Teaching Method

When you teach a colleague anything, you’re by definition receiving the benefits of the protégé effect. However, you can receive different benefits to different degrees by utilising various activities to supplement the usual classroom-based teaching style.

For example, instead of sitting down with a colleague and talking them through a problem from A to Z, perhaps you could use a collaborative exercise to give them the opportunity to explain their understanding of the topic. Or maybe you could create a quiz and have a group of colleagues complete it: you’ll consolidate and expand your understanding of the topic by phrasing the questions and summarising the answers.

In order to have a bigger impact upon your student/s when you decide to use the classic teaching method, build confidence and efficacy by first practicing with the rubber duck method.

What other theories or skills can enhance the protégé effect?

To reap the benefits of the protégé effect – regardless of your role as either teacher or student – you must understand the principles of coachability: How to be Coachable in Healthcare | Ausmed

Effective mentorship requires a variety of activities to stimulate different types of learners and areas of the brain, thus keeping all parties engaged: 8 Collaborative Learning Activities for Healthcare | Ausmed

To gain a deeper understanding of the effect of information consolidation, read the following:

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Avery, B.R., 2018. ‘Learning by Teaching.’ Medium. Accessed 16 September 2022 via https://medium.com/@bravery/learning-by-teaching-4c9cf15d86fe

Chris, K., 2022. ‘Rubber Duck Debugging.’ freeCodeCamp. Accessed 16 September 2022 via https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/rubber-duck-debugging/

Patel, M.; Aitken, D.; Xue, Y.; Sockalingam, S.; & Simpson, A., 2021. 'An evaluation of cascading mentorship as advocacy training in undergraduate medical education.' BMC Medical Education. Accessed 16 September 2022 via https://bmcmededuc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12909-021-02489-y

Rawlings, R., 2019. ‘Mastering the Protege Effect.’ Medium: Age of Awareness. Accessed 16 September 2022 via https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/mastering-the-protege-effect-1a49c62f7be5

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