Learning with Feynman Technique

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Brief Introduction: In this post, I would like to share a learning technique I often use when I am exploring a new topic or subject. And yes, this technique can be applied to learn whatever you want.  

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Introduction

People resist learning hard things — be it a graduate student majoring fundamental physics or a YouTube artist taming a new editing tool — because learning is hard and requires significant amounts of deep work.

And when was the last time you really had to study a new topic or subject which was totally new to you? It’s actually strange, but this is not something that happens automatically if you’re not a genius nerd. I know this is how it works for me, I really have to put serious energy into putting myself towards new things.

I tend to learn things slowly and am incapable of explaining subjects once I intuitively understand something. I feel that like it frustrates me because I want to become a better speaker and use my knowledge to better decode and understand situations. In this current world that I live in, I need to be a learning machine but more importantly the machine that can apply learnings efficiently. Then, I find the Feynman Technique.

The Feynman Technique

Named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman who, in addition to being a brilliant scientist, was also called “The Great Explainer” for his ability to relay complex ideas to others in simple, intuitive ways. The Feynman Technique is a method for learning or reviewing a concept quickly by explaining it in plain, simple language. It gives you a quick, efficient way to shore up those areas using targeted learning. It’s a simple technique, but it’ll help you study much more efficiently once you put into action.

So, how do you actually use it?

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Feynman learned by trying to explain things simply. If he couldn’t explain it simply, he didn’t understand it well enough. This is how the Feynman Technique for learning emerged.

  1. Pick a subject. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the subject you want to learn at the top. Then, write out what you know about the subject.
  2. Pretend to teach it to a beginner. Explain the subject in your own words as if you were teaching it to a child. Not your smart adult friend but rather a 9-year-old who has just enough vocabulary and attention span to understand basic concepts and relationships. This way, you will force yourself to understand the concept at a deeper level and simplify connections between ideas with only the most common words. If you struggle, you have a clear understanding of where you have some gaps. You will pinpoint exactly your problem areas and can address them.
  3. Review. Once you inevitably found the gaps, problem areas, or failed to explain something, go back to the sources. This is where the learning starts. Now you know where you got stuck, go back to the notes or any examples and try to re-learn it until you can explain in basic terms. Identifying the boundaries of your understanding also limits the mistakes you’re liable to make and increases your chance of success when applying knowledge.
  4. Simplify and use analogies. Now you have a set of hand-crafted notes. Review them to make sure you didn’t mistakenly write any confusing or complex explanations again. Refine them into a simple story that flows or create an analogy through a metaphor to understand it better and then read them out loud. If the explanation isn’t simple or still sounds confusing, that’s a good signal that your understanding in that area still needs some work.

The Feynman Technique is perfect for learning a new subject, understanding an existing subject better, remembering a subject, or studying for a quiz. I wasn’t kidding when I said it could be applied to learn whatever you want.

Conclusion

Voila! The next time you come across a difficult subject you want to understand on a deeper level, you could try this simple technique to see if it makes a difference in your level of grasping the subject. I hope you found this post useful.

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Recommended reading:

https://www.scotthyoung.com/learnonsteroids/grab/TranscriptFeynman.pdf

http://calnewport.com/blog/2015/11/25/the-feynman-notebook-method/

https://curiosity.com/topics/learn-anything-in-four-steps-with-the-feynman-technique-curiosity/

Footnotes:

Thanks to Curiosity App (you can download it on App Store) who introduced me to the Feynman Technique. Get smarter every day!

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