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Last Updated on November 20, 2020

Learning Effectively With the Feynman Technique (The Complete Guide)

Learning Effectively With the Feynman Technique (The Complete Guide)

Effective learning is a subject that we cover extensively on Lifehack, and for that, we discuss a number of complicated theories that often take thousands of words to explain. However, the Feynman Technique is one that’s so simple, even a child can understand how to use it.

In this article, you will learn what exactly the Feynman Technique is and how you can use it to learn effectively.

What Is the Feynman Technique?

The Feynman Technique is used to learn theories. Essentially, it’s used to memorize written material. This technique was developed by  theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and is widely recognized as one of the most influential and iconic figures of his time.

[1]

Although he was a brilliant scientist (hence the Nobel prize), he’s also known for his learning process that makes the process extremely simple and effective.

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering about how to learn with the Feynman Technique.

Well, it’s simple:

Explain what you’re trying to learn in simple terms, and notice the gaps in your explanation.

Once those gaps in your knowledge are exposed, it’s easier for you to fill them up[2].

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    The power and effectiveness of this learning method resides in the ability to simply explain things. Although Feynman studied complex processes, he had the ability to explain them simply enough that even 12-year-olds could understand him.

    That’s why he was known as “The Great Explainer.”

    The Trap of Sounding Smart

    There’s no better feeling for educated people than to sound like they know their stuff. However, that leads to further complications at the time of learning.

    When we’re so accustomed to using technical vocabulary, that’s how we explain a theory to ourselves while we learn it. This technical vocabulary gives us the false impression of understanding what we’re talking about.

    Most of the time, our explanations have huge gaps that are covered with our carefully-chosen words. The worst part is that even we don’t realize the parts we’re missing. However, if we were to sit down and dissect every line of our explanation, we’d notice that we’re missing a few pieces of the puzzle.

    The basis of the Feynman Technique lies in simple explanation. We’re getting rid of all the useless jargon and trying to explain our concepts in a way that a 12-year-old child would be able to comprehend[3].

    When you try that, you notice that some of what you say probably doesn’t make sense, or that you’re jumping from one major point to another without having a clear idea of how the transition takes place.

    Explaining simply and effectively is an art that takes time to master.

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    While you’re at it, try to simplify your already-simplified explanation so you’re only exposing the concept underneath.

    How to Learn With the Feynman Technique

    There are 4 parts to learning with the Feynman Technique:

    1. Initial reading/studying
    2. Writing and explaining
    3. Noticing gaps and improper explanations
    4. Revisiting educational material

    Let’s take a deeper look at it now.

    1. Initial Reading/Studying

    To start, you need to tap into your attention span and read the source material extensively to create a knowledge base. I’m not talking about skimming through the words; you need to really get into it and read with the understanding that you’re trying to eventually memorize.

    A lot of people think that explaining what you’re trying to learn comes after you’re done reading, but that often leads to poor understanding of the concept, which forces you to reread the information.

    Research suggests that rereading is an ineffective method of learning.[4] A good tip for learning with the Feynman Technique is to explain each line as you read. This explanation allows you to clarify your concept along the way and afterward focus on retention alone.

    When you read the whole thing in one go and then try to clear concepts later, most of the information is lost in trying to explain and retain at the same time.

    2. Writing and Explaining

    Once you’ve read the text and explained it to yourself sentence-by-sentence, close the book (or tab) and take out a pen and paper.

    Now, write down everything you know about the topic.

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    No matter what it is or how much sense it makes, just vomit all your information out and try to explain it in basic terminology. Remember: it’s extremely important to be clear in your explanation and use simple language that a 6th grader could understand.

    By convention, if a 6th grader won’t understand your explanation, you should work on further simplifying it.

    You could also try teaching it to someone else or explaining it to a real 6th grader…if they’ll let you.

    The major benefit of doing that is that you’ll see real-time reactions of what makes sense to an average person and what doesn’t.

    3. Noticing Gaps and Improper Explanations

    Now that you’ve written your explanation, take a second look at it and notice if everything makes sense.

    Do the ideas flow right from one aspect to another? Are all aspects of the topic sounding crisp and thorough?

    4. Revisiting Educational Material

    If you’re like the rest of the human race, you probably messed up a few parts while you wrote. Now, you should shine a light on those problematic parts.

    Go back to your learning material and study again. This time, lay special emphasis on parts that you missed or messed up previously. This will allow you to use focused learning methods that can improve the retention of information.

    The Biggest Benefit of the Feynman Technique

    We’ve discussed the benefits of exposing your weak portions using the Feynman Technique. One thing we haven’t focused on is what happens after those weak portions are exposed.

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    The biggest benefit of the Feynman Technique is that after the exposure of your weak points, you know what needs your immediate attention and what parts you can ignore while you re-study.

    This selective focus is what helps you retain the tricky parts that you always seem to forget.

    Extended Applications in Decision-Making

    Although the Feynman Technique is used for learning theory, I find its principles to be quite universal, and I have personally been using these principles in decision making.

    I’ve stopped trying to over-complicate decisions or avoiding their explanations.

    Whenever I face a problem, I take out a pen and paper and write down the explanation of my decision. I try keeping it as simple and blunt as I can, such that a 12-year-old would understand the reason behind my choice.

    Often, I see that my explanations don’t make much sense or that they’re incomplete.

    Most of us aren’t willing to think too much about hard decisions since we’re afraid to face them. When they come, we think we understand them and their complexity and that we understand our actions and their consequences.

    However, if we focus on those decisions, dissect them, and explain to ourselves why we’re making them, we might end up making better ones.

    The Bottom Line

    The Feynman Technique is an excellent method of understanding your decisions and fine-tuning information that doesn’t quite add up.

    If you want to start learning effectively, particularly complicated or difficult theories, the Feynman Technique is a very useful tool for you.

    More Tips on Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Fabiola Peñalba via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Published on April 15, 2021

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    You have probably heard of the saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”

    That old cliché gets thrown around quite a bit in educational circles, but what really goes into inspiring people to become independent, lifelong learners? Read on to learn more about self-regulated learning and how to make it more effective.

    Self-Regulated Learning

    One theory about teaching people how to learn is through self-regulated learning. In the broadest sense, it’s the idea that individuals should set their own learning goals and work independently and with a sense of agency and autonomy to achieve those goals. It’s the opposite of a teacher handing out a worksheet and students completing it just because the teacher told them to.

    Self-regulated learning is constructive and self-directed.[1] Instead of the worksheet example, self-regulated learning involves the students setting their own learning goals, deciding how to best achieve those goals, and then systematically and strategically working toward them. Teaching strategies like the Workshop Model and Portfolios are more aligned with self-regulated learning than a one-size-fits-all worksheet or lecture.

    Workshop Model

    The workshop model consists of three parts. Class begins with a mini-lesson, then students spend time working independently while the teacher circulates conferencing with students. Finally, the class ends with some kind of summary derived from what students learned through their independent work.

    Heavy hitters in the workshop model are Lucy Calkins and Nancie Atwell.[2][3] Their work has been instrumental in spreading best practices so that teachers know how to create truly student-led learning experiences.[4]

    Portfolios

    Another example of an instruction that’s moving toward self-regulated learning is student portfolios. Students set learning goals and periodically reflect on whether or not they’re achieving those goals. They keep all their reflections and student work in folders and have periodic conferences with their teacher on how they’re pressing toward their goals.[5]

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    The problem though is that the workshop model and portfolios require a different mindset and skillset from teachers. That’s where the theory of self-regulated learning comes in.

    3 Elements of Self-Regulated Learning

    One approach to self-regulated learning is to break it down into three components: regulation of processing modes, regulation of the learning process, and regulation of self. Dividing self-regulated learning in this way helps teachers know how to best help students work toward their individual goals, and it also gives us a glimpse into how we all can become more self-regulated learners.

    1. Regulation of Processing Modes

    The first step in self-regulated learning is to give learners a choice in how and why they’re learning in the first place.

    In our worksheet example, students are completing the task because the teacher said so, but when we reset why we’re learning in the first place, we’re starting to create a foundation for self-regulated learning.

    One educational researcher, Noel Entwistle makes a distinction between three different reasons for learning, and his work makes what we’re all working toward a lot clearer. Students can try to reproduce or memorize information, they can try to get good grades, or they can seek personal understanding or meaning.[6]

    The goal of self-regulated learning is to encourage students to move away from the first two learning orientations (following orders and trying to get good grades) and move toward the third, learning for some kind of intrinsic gain—learning to learn.

    2. Regulation of Learning Process

    The next level of self-regulated learning is when students are in charge of their own learning process. This is also known as metacognition. Studies have shown that when teachers do most of the heavy lifting—deciding what’s working and not working for each student—there’s a reduction in students’ metacognitive skills.[7]

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    When I was teaching middle and high school, we had a saying that if we left the building at the end of the school day more tired than the students, we hadn’t done our job. What that means is that teachers have to find a way to get students to do the heavy lifting of metacognition—thinking about thinking. And students need to accept the challenge and become curious about what’s working and not working about their individualized and (at least, partially) self-generated learning plans.

    Boosting metacognition might include learning about how the brain works, what metacognition is all about, and all the different learning styles. Becoming curious about your individual strengths and learning preferences is crucial in beefing up your metacognitive skills.

    3. Regulation of Self

    Finally, there’s goal setting. If students are going to become truly self-regulated learners, they have to start setting their own goals and then reflecting on their progress toward those goals.

    How to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

    Now that you’ve learned the important elements of self-regulated learning, here are 9 ways you can make it more effective for you.

    1. Change Your Mindset About Learning

    The first way to become a self-regulated learner is to change your mindset about why you’re learning in the first place. Instead of doing your schoolwork because the teacher says so or because you want the highest GPA, try to move toward learning to satisfy your curiosity. Learn because you want to learn.

    Sometimes, this will be easy, like when you’re learning something on your own that you’ve self-selected. Other times, it’s tougher, like when you have a teacher-selected assignment due.

    Before mindlessly completing your assignment, try to find “your in.” Find what’s fascinating about the topic and cling to that as you complete it. Sure, you need to complete it to graduate, but by finding the morsel that’s interesting to you, you’ll be able to start experiencing a more self-regulated kind of learning.

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    2. Explore Different Learning Styles

    There are lots of different ways to learn: auditory, visual, spatial, and kinesthetic. Learn what all those styles mean and which ones feel especially effective for you.

    3. Learn How Learning Works

    Another great way to become a more self-regulated learner is to learn how learning works. Read up on cognitive science and psychology to figure out how we form memories, how we retain information, and how our emotions affect our learning. You have to understand the tools you’ve been given before you can wield those tools most optimally.

    4. Get Introspective

    Now it’s time to get introspective. Do a learning inventory and reflect on when you’ve been most and least successful in your learning.

    What’s your best subject? Why? When did you lose interest in a subject? Why? Ask yourself tough questions about how you learn, so you can move forward more strategically.

    5. Find Someone to Tell You Like It Is

    It’s also helpful to find someone who can be honest about your learning strengths and weaknesses. Find someone you trust who will be honest about your learning progress. If you lack self-awareness about your learning style and abilities, it’s difficult to be a self-regulated learner, so work with someone else to start becoming more self-aware.

    6. Set Some SMART Goals

    Now it’s time to set some learning goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They’re a great way to become a self-regulated learner.[8]

    Instead of just saying, “I want to get better at Spanish,” you might set a SMART goal by saying “I want to memorize 100 new Spanish vocabulary words by next week.” Next week, you can test yourself and measure whether or not you’ve achieved your goal.

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    It’s difficult to see how we’re progressing and learning when our goal is vague. Setting SMART goals gives you a clear barometer for your learning.

    7. Reflect on Your Progress

    Goals don’t mean much unless you measure your progress every now and then. Take time to determine whether or not you’ve achieved your SMART learning goals and why or why not you did. Self-reflection is a great way to boost self-awareness, which is a great way to become a self-regulated learner.

    8. Find Your Accountability Buddies

    Armed with your goals and deadlines, it’s time to find some trustworthy people to help keep you accountable. Now, your learning progress is your responsibility when you’re a self-regulated learner, but it doesn’t hurt to have some friends who know what your goals are. You can turn to this trustworthy group to discuss your learning progress and keep you motivated.

    9. Say It Loud and Proud

    There’s a phenomenon where we’re more likely to attain our goals when we’ve made them public.[9] Announcing our goals helps hold our feet to the fire. So, figure out a way to make your learning goals known. This might mean telling your accountability buddies, your teacher, or maybe even a social media group.

    Just know that you’re more likely to succeed when you’re not the only one who knows what your goals are.

    Final Thoughts

    Self-regulated learning is learning for learning’s sake. So, change your entire attitude about why you’re learning in the first place. Choose what you want to know more about or start with what interests you most when assigned a topic or project.

    Then, set SMART goals and periodically reflect on your progress. Self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Make learning your job and your responsibility, and you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a self-regulated learner.

    You’ll never need to blame your learning struggles on someone or something else. Instead, you’ll have the self-awareness and abilities to be able to take your learning into your own hands and find a way forward no matter your current situation and limitations.

    Featured photo credit: Josefa nDiaz via unsplash.com

    Reference

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