Advertising
Advertising

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].

Advertising

the feynman technique safal niveshak

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low) 20 Things Life Is Too Short to Worry About How to Get Motivated Every Day When You Wake Up Does Less Discipline Equal More Freedom? The Endless Battle Between Good and Popular

    Trending in Learning

    1 The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind 2 12 Reasons Why Rote Learning Isn’t Effective in Learning 3 7 Best Languages to Learn in Order to Stay Competitive 4 How To Learn Effectively With Kinesthetic Learning Style 5 30 Best Quotes to Inspire You to Never Stop Learning

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 12, 2021

    The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

    The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

    Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster – and also a former world chess champion. Over the last few decades, he’s beaten hundreds of first-class chess players. It’s no surprise then, that many people consider Kasparov to be one of the greatest chess players of all time.

    However, in 1997, Kasparov lost a game of chess to a computer. A year earlier, he had played against IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer and defeated it. But the computer was to have its revenge, as just one year later, when the rematch took place, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov.

      Over the next few years, humans and computers traded chess moves and blows. Fast-forward to 2017, and the picture is crystal clear: today’s best chess programs can easily beat the world’s best human chess players.[1]

      As the Kasparov story demonstrates, even the world’s top players – who practiced a lot – can end up losing.

      Now consider your friends, family and colleagues. How many of these people think they’re doing well in what they do? And how many think they are doing better than the average and have stopped looking for ways to improve themselves? The answer is, a lot.

      Why Learning Can Lead to Stagnation

      When people learn well – they pick up knowledge and quickly become skillful. And the smarter the people, the easier they pick up knowledge, and the easier and faster they become very good at something.

      Advertising

      These types of individuals find learning effortless, and therefore, they pick up knowledge and skills much better than the average person.

      Take a look at the picture below. The tool in their hand represents the skill they have learned, and the cloud is the level they are currently on – in this case ground level.

        When these learners become knowers, they believe that they know what they’ve learned extremely well. This may be the case, but in reality, they’re already better than average. Because of this, they are unlikely to find anyone who can surpass them. It’s at this point that they may think to themselves, “I’m good enough” and “there’s no need for me learn anything more.”

          As I’ll show in the next few paragraphs, people’s egos can stop them from learning and improving themselves.

          For example, let’s take a look at an expert pianist. They can perform proficiently because of their hard work and practice that they’ve put in over the course of many years. To help them, they may have had a tutor who developed their skills and brought out their talent.

          Advertising

          The consistent tutoring and practicing led them to become an accomplished pianist – one who regularly performs paid concerts in front of decent-sized audiences. However, their success has led them to believe that they don’t need to make any further changes or improvements to their musical skills.

            When experts stop learning – they start to fall behind. This is because others will keep improving, and eventually get ahead of them.

            The world is constantly changing, so sticking to the same way to practice (and failing to improve) will lead to people dropping the ball. A recent study predicted that one in five U.K. employees are under threat of losing their jobs to automation. A person who’s comfortable in their job today, may find themselves replaced by a computer or robot tomorrow. If this prediction comes true, millions of people will soon find themselves out of work.[2] This is a real life example of how people can fall behind when they stop learning and improving themselves.

            Clearly, any experts who stop learning and improving, will be replaced by those who keep learning – whether these are humans or machines.

              When You Think You’ve Learned Enough, You Fall Behind

              The cloud depicted in the visuals isn’t concrete, and it’s prone to fall and disappear any time when you stop paying attention to your own learning and development.

              Advertising

              Everyone, no matter how good they believe themselves to be at something, should never stop learning. Reaching an ‘acceptable’ performance only means that you’re doing okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it to the best of your ability or potential.

              As I stated earlier (but well worth repeating again)… When you stop learning, you’re falling behind.

                Push Yourself to Reach New Heights

                To keep ahead of your competitors, you need to keep learning and practicing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean doing things in the same way. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to improve.

                  Do what you can’t

                  When you think you’re doing something well enough, find what you can’t do – and then do it! Here are four key things to remember about pushing your boundaries:

                  1. If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
                  2. Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before.
                  3. Sometimes you’ll run into something that stops you in your tracks. Find ways around these hurdles by focusing on improving your skills and knowledge, and then practicing them until you become proficient.
                  4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may need to try different ways to make things happen.

                  Set yourself specific goals as you practice

                  People who achieve great things set themselves definite goals. And I highly recommend that you do the same.

                  Advertising

                  One great way to do this is to follow the SMART and Stretch goal methods, which will help you set a big goal, while at the same time giving you baby steps on how to reach it. When SMART and Stretch goals are combined, your goal setting will have genuine purpose and power. You’ll be motivated by the giant goal, while having confidence in the small, incremental steps that will lead you there.

                  Find out more about goals setting in my other article: How to Get Bigger Things Done in the Coming Year

                  Along the way, you need to get feedback to help you improve

                  It goes without saying that to make progress, you’ll need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short. This feedback can be from yourself or from outside observers (e.g., your audience, your mentor, your peers).

                  Do you know why computers can beat humans at chess after those times they’ve lost against them? The answer is, that people who program the computers have learned through all the steps humans have performed. They also gathered valuable feedback through their computers losing against some competitors. The programmers pick up the clues and change the way the computers perform in their next matches.

                  Learning Should Never Come to an End

                  When we’re young we naturally crave learning. We constantly seek out new knowledge, skills and experiences. However, as we mature, there’s a tendency for us to stop learning new things.

                  If this happens, you can be sure that stagnation is just around the corner. And as nature shows, nothing (even stagnation) stays the same for long. Things are either building up – or breaking down.

                  To avoid the latter, you must maintain a positive outlook that embraces big goals and constant learning. By doing these things, you’ll stay fresh, lively and ahead of the pack of hyenas snapping at your heels!

                  Reference

                  Read Next