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 kid would understand how to use it.

In this article, you will learn what exactly is the Feynman Technique 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 Richard P. Feynman, a Nobel prize winner who’s widely recognized as one of the most influential and iconic figures of his time.((The Nobel Prize: Richard P. Feynman))

Although he was a brilliant scientist (hence the Nobel prize), he’s also known for his learning technique that makes the process extremely simple yet 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 the simplest of words and notice the gaps in your explanation.

Once those gaps are exposed, it’s easier for you to fill them up.

The power and effectiveness of this learning method reside 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

Let’s just agree to it:

We all love sounding smart.

There’s no better feeling for educated people than to sound like they know their stuff. But 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. And the worst part, even we don’t realize the parts we’re missing. But 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; meaning that 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 them.

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.

So 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 read the learning material extensively. I’m not talking about skimming through the words; you need to really get into it and read with this in mind that you’re trying to eventually memorize.

I find that reading for the sake of reading leads to lesser retention. So try to learn and retain while you read.

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.((Indiana University Bloomington:Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology)) 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.

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 enough words that a 6th grader could understand you.

By convention, if a 6th grader won’t understand your explanation, it’s probably a bad one and you should work on further simplifying it.

You could also explain it to a real 6th grader… if they’d 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. And so 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. But one thing we haven’t focused on is what happens after those weak portions are exposed.

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.

A lot of times, I see that my explanations don’t make much sense or that they’re incomplete. I’m assuming that I know what I’m doing when in reality, I don’t.

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.

But if we focus on those decisions, dissect them and explain to ourselves why we’re taking them, we might end up taking better ones.

The Bottom Line

The Feynman Technique is an excellent method of understanding your decisions and fine-tuning stuff that doesn’t quite add up.

If you want to learn effectively, particularly complicated or difficult theories, the Feynman Technique is a very useful tool for you.

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