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.
Table of Contents
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Initial reading/studying
- Writing and explaining
- Noticing gaps and improper explanations
- 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. 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.
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.
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.
|||^||The Nobel Prize: Richard P. Feynman|
|||^||Trade Brains: How to learn faster- The Feynman Technique!|
|||^||Medium: Learning From the Feynman Technique|
|||^||Indiana University Bloomington: Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology|