Learning a new idea or skill is not always easy, especially if you can’t count on the help of a tutor or school. But the Feynman technique promises to help you transform any concept into knowledge rather than just memorizing it.
There are many learning methods out there, such as Mind Mapping or Retrieval Practice. However, few are as straightforward as the Feynman technique.
Next, let’s dive into the history of this popular approach to learning and find out how to put the Feynman technique into practice.
What is the Feynman Technique?
The Feynman Technique is a learning method that makes it easier to deeply understand new topics quickly.
Richard Phillips Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winner theoretical physicist best known for his outstanding contribution to quantum physics, proposing the parton model, quantum computing, and much more.
His studies instigated the then-new field of quantum electrodynamics (QED). The 1940s Feynman Diagram provided a much-needed visual explanation of the perplexing behavior of subatomic particles. His research and lectures were essential in understanding the reason for the space shuttle Challenger catastrophe in 1986.
Even with so much highly academic and technical knowledge of physics, his lectures and classes focused on students with little to no prior understanding of particle physics or deep science. Feynman excelled in demystifying complicated scientific ideas and making them accessible for non-specialist audiences to understand.
His first autobiographic book, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” discusses his many hobbies and interests, from safe-cracking to playing samba music. With so many skills to learn and ideas to decode, he needed a method to speed up and improve his learning curve.
So, amidst his brilliant career as a researcher and scientist, Feynman also coined a learning technique that still helps students worldwide.
How does the Feynman Technique work?
The key concept behind the Feynman Technique is the distinction between deeply understanding an idea and just knowing its name. Even with so many interests, Feynman was never satisfied with simply knowing the name of anything. He always wanted to dig deeper and get a better understanding of it.
To do so, he developed a simple four-step method guaranteeing a deep understanding of any topic. The four actions in the Feynman Technique are:
- Study: Pick an interesting topic.
- Teach: Explain the topic to a layperson.
- Refine: Review and fill in the gaps.
- Simplify: Make it even easier to retain.
1. Study: Pick an interesting topic.
The first step is as obvious as it can be: choosing what you want to learn. In fact, if you’re looking for learning techniques, you probably already have your next topic in mind.
Whether it’s a theoretical study or a practical skill, like sports, write down everything you already know about it. The trick here is to highlight to yourself why such a topic is relevant and why you want to learn it in the first place.
Next, break it down to its core principles. What are the essential things you have to know about the chosen topic? Start with those and only then move to extra details or expertise you’d like to know better.
Let’s say you want to learn a new language. The core principles would be learning the fundamental questions (what, how, where, when, why), numbers and directions, pronouns and verb to be, and then the most used 250-500 words.
Then you can move on to learning different verb conjugations, intricate vocabulary, and so on.
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2. Teach: Explain the topic to a layperson.
It’s not by chance that philosopher Seneca once said “docendo discimus” or “by teaching, we learn”. When you convey an idea to others, it means that you have internalized it and actually understood it well enough.
This second step in the Feynman technique is about externalizing what you just learned in your own way. Revisiting your notes on a topic is always good, but putting the knowledge into spoken words can help with memory formation, just like reading aloud does.
Surely, you don’t have to indulge in formal teaching to benefit from this practice. You can do it by training new colleagues, tutoring a college or high school student, or simply indulging in an informal intellectual conversation.
The point here is to put your knowledge to check, as your audience is likely to as questions and probe you. Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s a great exercise to help you identify gaps or obsolescences in your understanding of the topic.
Overall, explaining the object of your studies to a layperson can help you:
- Get a better grasp of the subject matter or a new perspective.
- Hone your observation and interaction abilities.
- Find and fix knowledge gaps and outdated understandings.
- Improve your communication abilities while educating someone from a different background than yours.
3. Refine: Review and fill in the gaps.
After teaching has uncovered a few gaps in your knowledge, it’s time to go back to studying and strengthen your understanding of the chosen topic.
There are many ways to review knowledge. You can go through your notes, test yourself with an exam, or test new ways of practicing an empirical skill. The more frequently you revisit your studies, the more you’re likely to improve and memorize them for good.
Using the language learning example, this is a study topic that will always present gaps to be filled. From new words to native-level phrasal verbs and expressions to pronunciation, there is always something else to learn. The more you practice the language and fill in the gaps, the more proficiency you’ll gain.
4. Simplify: Make it even easier to retain.
At this point, all the previous steps will have already helped you comprehend your topic of choice and improve your learning skills. Yet, this last measure of the Feynman technique can be a game changer for you to learn a subject once and for all.
Taking the time to simplify your studies’ content is particularly effective in building a coherent understanding of it. In the end, being proficient in a skill or topic is about being all to cut through the clutter and master the core aspects of it.
You can simplify a concept by
- Eliminating anything that adds no value to the overall understanding of the topic.
- Reducing the usage of overly complicated jargon and sticking to simpler synonyms.
- Associating new knowledge with old ones.
- Introducing the new practices into your daily life and testing how they can be applied.
However, you must be careful not to fall into the pits of oversimplification. Instead of making it easier to understand, an oversimplified comprehension can be a very poor approximation, confusing, misleading, or plain erroneous.
Extra step: Organize your studies with Akiflow
The Feynman technique is great for those looking for a simple and effective study method. It can be even better when aligned with a time management tool like Akiflow, which can help you plan and organize your studies in your schedule.
Akiflow is a time blocking app that allows you to plan your day hourly and helps you prioritize your tasks efficiently. If you’re currently focusing on learning something new, you can emphasize all your study-related tasks and allocate them during your prime hours.
With the Focus Mode feature, you can create a visual anchor to your study task and hide all other tabs to avoid distractions and procrastination. You can even write down all your study notes and highlights on the Focus Mode page.
Akiflow can be a handy ally during your learning journey. Give it a try right now!
Like its creator, the Feynman technique is a brilliant yet straightforward approach to learning and has helped many students improve their relationship with studies and education.
Combining this learning method with Akiflow is guaranteed to improve your overall productivity. You can start your learning and productivity journeys right now with our free trial.
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