Communication training that facilitates subject understanding

  • Susanne Pelger

    Sara Santesson

    One of the highest valued skills in working life is the ability to explain complex matter to non-specialists. This was confirmed by an alumn survey carried out at the Faculty of Science in Lund (1). Students therefore need systematic communication training during their studies, not only with experts in their own field, but also with a wider audience. Hence, the ability to communicate subject matter in various contexts makes an important learning outcome. In addition, communication training may as well facilitate the students’ understanding of their subject (2), an effect that we highlight in a new book on teaching and learning in higher education (3). The aim of this presentation is to illustrate how communication skills can be trained throughout the studies – and also bring about a deeper understanding of the subject. 

    There are alternative ways in which generic skills training may be designed in education. It has been shown that communication skills are most successfully developed in a specific context (4). This is an example of how the integration of generic skills and subject matter will mutually enhance the development of each other (5). Skills that are especially promoted by integrated training are the ability to accommodate diversity and alternative perspectives, the ability to create and defend ideas, and the ability to use communication as a vehicle for learning (6).  This supports the idea that popular science communication should make an integral part of the subject studies. 

    In this presentation we use specific exercises, authentic student texts and teacher response to illustrate the potential of popular science communication to reach a widened perspective and a deeper understanding of the subject. We also discuss how the exercises presented in our book can be integrated in subject studies, and in this way provide a tool to facilitate the progression of skills through the education.