Why do some people seem to have an uncanny knack for learning things quickly while you struggle? You even try gimmicks to memorize the information, everything from creating songs and catchy mnemonic devices to more extreme approaches such as listening to books on tape while you sleep and even weird visualization techniques.. but the information just won’t stick!
While learning styles may differ, there are similarities in the way the brain takes in and handles new information and that tidbit of knowledge can yield efficient strategies for learning new things.
Understanding your brain
The human brain consists of special cells called neurons, which are made up of several parts, including brain fibers known as dendrites. As you learn, dendrites grow and connect your brain cells to one another at contact points called synapses. The larger your dendrites become, the more connections they make and more connections mean a greater storage capacity for your brain.
The caveat to this is that dendrites can only be produced and increased in size by building upon existing dendrites. In other words, to acquire new knowledge, the brain must build upon existing information.
Introducing the FeynmanTechnique
The Feynman Technique is a mental model named after the Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, Richard Feynman. It is a technique he created that streamlines and simplifies the learning process. The method enables you to comprehend and remember almost anything. It is designed to help you understand difficult concepts and easily recall information you’ve already learned.
This technique complements and assists the brain’s natural process of building dendrites and increasing synapses.
The process is surprisingly simple yet incredibly effective. It involves three simple steps:
- Read the information
- Write down key concepts and information you don’t know in simple easy-to-understand terms—as if you were going to teach it to someone else
- Refer back to the information source to review information if you get stuck or for particular concepts you don’t fully understand.
Why it works
You are probably not very impressed or convinced by this method as it seems so simple. However, its simplicity masks its true power. Consider how most people normally attack learning a new concept or try to study unfamiliar material for an exam. Nine times out of ten, you read the material a couple of times and then hope you remember it… How’s that working for you?
This method is effective for a variety of reasons:
- It is active, meaning it requires the learner to actively engage in learning by doing something (writing) versus the more passive activity of simply sitting and reading. The brain is stimulated by the action of writing
- It requires a series of mental functions. In this method, you are not merely copying the material. You must understand and interpret what you are reading and then translate it into your own simplified personal language. The mere act of analyzing information and then simplifying it is a much more involved and mentally intensive act than most people realize.
- Thinking like a teacher makes you a better learner. The concept is simple: when you understand an idea well enough to explain it to others, it helps you internalize it. Learning information from the posture of having to simplify it and give it to someone else is one of the best ways to ensure true comprehension.
Learning is an activity. It requires action on your part. Instead of employing elaborate and outlandish techniques requiring undue expenditures of time and energy try this researched and proven method. Read the material. Write it down in a simplified form, as if you are going to teach it to someone else and then review the source material to clear up any ambiguity. It’s as easy as one, two, three!
Featured photo credit: ViktorHanacek.cz via pexels.com
|||^||Mayo Clinic: Slideshow: How your brain works|
|||^||Pub Med Health: Synapses|
|||^||Oxford Journals: Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Dendrite Growth|
|||^||Lifehacker: The Feynman Technique Helps You Study Faster And Retain More Information|
|||^||Matty Ford: An Introduction to Mental Models|
|||^||Feynman: Richard Feynman|
|||^||Lifehacker: Why You Learn More Effectively By Writing Than Typing|
|||^||Time: The Protege Effect|