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Last Updated on November 20, 2020

Learning Effectively With the Feynman Technique (The Complete Guide)

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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.

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    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

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on August 11, 2021

    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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    23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

    Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

    1. Coursera

    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

    2. Khan Academy

    Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

    Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

    3. Open Culture Online Courses

    If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

    The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

    Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

    4. Udemy 

    Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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    Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

    5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

    Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

    In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

    These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

    6. Academic Earth

    Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

    Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

    7. edX

    Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

    8. Alison

    Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

    It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

    9. iTunesU Free Courses

    A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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    Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

    Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

    iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

    10. Stanford Online

    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

    Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

    11. Open Yale Courses

    Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

    12. UC Berkeley Class Central

    Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

    13. MIT OpenCourseWare

    Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

    14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

    Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

    15. Codecademy

    Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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    The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

    16. Code

    Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

    In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

    Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

    17. University of Oxford Podcasts

    The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

    The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

    18. BBC Podcasts

    For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

    Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

    19. TED-Ed

    Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

    Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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    20. LessonPaths

    LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

    21. Memrise

    Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

    Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

    22. National Geographic Kids

    The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

    National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

    23. Fun Brain

    Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

    Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

    The Bottom Line

    With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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