As a student or someone interested in lifelong learning, there are many things competing for your attention. These can become major distractions whenever you need to concentrate. You might be watching lots of YouTube videos or reading my blogs to improve and be ahead of the game but there’s only so long my blogs can be so I’m only scraping the surface of what I’m trying to teach you.
Fortunately, there are numerous learning tools that are proven to be effective in boosting your ability to fully comprehend what you are trying to learn.
Who is Richard Feynman
One of the greatest students of all time was also one of the greatest teachers of all time. Richard Feynman was a nobel prize winning physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. Most scientists aren’t that great at teaching but Feynman had a way of connecting with his students, even complete novices, people called him the great explainer for his ability to relay complex ideas to others in simple, intuitive ways.
What is the feynman technique?
Have you ever had a teacher or coworker who spoke in only technical terms, or would explain things with language that was really challenging to understand? You probably weren't able to learn much from that person because you could hardly follow what they were saying. if you are able to explain a complex concept in simple terms, you have a good understanding of the concept at hand. By practicing this it will also help you recognize your problem areas or areas of confusion, because this will be where you either get stuck when explaining the concept or where you have to resort to using complex terminology. The whole point of the Feynman technique is to explain complex theories in it’s most simplistic form, this allows you to understand the concept on a deeper level, as you can now explain it in basic terms. Feynman was a scientist but his technique can be used for any subject that you want to have a greater understanding of, Feynman began recording and connecting the information he knew with the things that he either didn't know or didn't understand. In the end, he had a complete notebook of topics and subjects that he had disassembled, translated, reassembled, and written down in simple terms. He was known to venture out of his own field of expertise and apply the technique to art, music, math’s and much much more.
The 4 Steps of the Feynman Technique
Here are the four core steps used in the Feynman Technique to accomplish your learning goals.
- Choose the idea or concept that you want to learn about, understand deeper, or quickly recall during examinations.Write the concept as a heading on a blank piece of paper or notebook page.After choosing the concept, write down everything that you already know about the subject on your paper. Think of every minor detail that you can recall about the subject or have learned in the past. Keep this sheet handy to continue to write down what you learn. Let’s take dieting for example, assuming that you know a little about nutrition, you understand that sugar isn’t good for you, one of the concepts you could break it down into is “why sugar is bad"
- Imagine that you are tasked with teaching the concept to a new student. Explain the concept using your own words, pretending that you are teaching it to someone else. Make sure that you use plain, simple language. Put yourself up to the challenge of explaining an example or two of the subject to make sure that you can apply the concept to real life.
- Don't worry if you get stuck when practicing step #2. You are just starting to learn, so it won't all come to you immediately. Review the explanation that you came up with, and pinpoint the areas where you were not clear or you felt your explanation wasn’t fully clear or you started to ramble on. Then, return to your source material and notes to better your understanding. Practice step #2 again with your new, revised notes.
- Make sure that you are able to explain this to someone who knows nothing about the subject. To do this, you will want to use simple terms when you write the ideas or concepts in your own words. While complex, subject-specific jargon sounds cool, it confuses people and urges them to stop paying attention, you could use words that other people use or even link it to something more understandable, for example, a way of explaining how we process memories is that it’s a bit like a computer, we input what we see into something called our short term memory then overtime it goes into our long term memory, this is like the memory being saved, we can then recall the memory which is like opening a file on your computer documents which hasn’t been opened in a while. Replace technical terms with simpler words, an extra tip is to think of how you could explain your lesson to a child. Children are not able to understand jargon or dense vocabulary. Because science and every other subject is filled with complex terms, Feynman’s diagrams became valuable to people who were struggling to teach and to people who were struggling to understand. His charts were able to simply explain things that other scientists took hours to lecture students on in an attempt to teach them. If a concept is highly technical or complicated, analogies are also a good way to simplify them. Analogies are the foundation of learning from experience, and they work because they make use of your brain's natural inclination to match patterns. Analogies influence what you perceive and remember, and help you process information more easily because you associate it with things you already know. These mental shortcuts are useful methods of processing new and unfamiliar information, and help people understand, organize, and comprehend incoming information.One example of an analogy created by Feynman encapsulates the power of his technique. He was able to take a question regarding human existence and simplify it into a simple sentence that even a middle-schooler could understand. Feynman said: “All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”
The Feynman Technique is a helpful learning tool that requires you to challenge your own understanding to enhance your recall of complex topics, break down the complexity of a lesson into easily understood points, and provide an opportunity to really absorb learning materials and concepts.
If you would like to know more about Richard Feynman and his teaching you can read this book