How to Use the Feynman Technique
July 06, 2021 • 5 min read
Named after a Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, Richard Feynman, the Feynman technique is a mental model that helps to learn everything faster and more efficiently. Many students have already tried this mental model and proved that the Feynman technique helps to understand confusing concepts or materials. This technique can also be used in the office when you’re trying to tackle huge projects. It can be beneficial to learn how to use the Feynman Technique.
We never stop learning regardless of age. You might agree that learning is crushingly frustrating and hard work that can result in anxiety and other mental disorders. The Feynman technique isn’t about constant mangling, it’s about good teaching that leads to good learning.
The technique was used by Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein to retain more information and tackle difficult topics. Can you use the Feynman technique in your daily college or office life? Sure! You can also use it when learning a new language, as well.
Why is the Feynman technique so useful?
Whether you’re a college student getting ready for your finals or you’re an office worker trying to learn a new professional skill, learning information through teaching can significantly ease the whole process. The greatest thing about the Feynman technique is that it can be applied in any area of your life.
Let’s say, you’re about to start a new hobby or want to learn a new language. Despite all those hours spent on mangling or reading, you still can’t understand certain grammatical rules or materials. It’s a reason to try the Feynman technique rather than give up.
Think for a minute, “Why do teachers manage to learn and retain a lot of information?” In most cases, it’s not because they have some unusual skills or they spend every minute learning something. It’s because they learn as they teach.
You can use the Feynman technique to study more efficiently, learn new material faster, support knowledge gaps you might have, or to recall your best ideas. Moreover, you can use the Feynman technique to cope with the hard subject matter, reducing your stress levels.
The Feynman technique is also useful for people who have weak writing skills. Richard Feynman had a bit complicated relationship with the whole process of writing. Rather than writing down his knowledge, he used speech as the source for most of his published works. Feynman’s lectures were transcribed into scientific papers and he dictated a lot of his memoirs and books instead of writing them down by himself.
How to use the Feynman technique
The Feynman technique makes learning meaningful, rewarding, and practical. It will help you to figure out certain gaps you should work on and will force you to keep your knowledge organized and synthesized. Most importantly, this mental model helps to test recall and boost memory.
It would be great if you practice this technique with someone else, albeit you can do it alone as well. Here’s your little guide to using the Feynman technique when trying to learn something new.
1. Break the topic down into several concepts
If you already know the topic, write it down. If you simply want to try the Feynman technique with a random topic, choose the topic and make a list of the things you don’t know about it. Once you’re done, break it down into several important concepts. Your task is to figure out the concepts you can focus on and examine them until you notice how all of the concepts fit together. If you’re aware of the topic, but want to learn it deeper, write down all the things you’d like to learn about the topic.
2. Choose one concept and scribble it down at the top of the page
Start with one concept that you want to discover first or that seems to be the most important one. Grab another sheet of paper and write down everything you read, heard, or know about that concept. Write fast and raw. Your task is to take full advantage of your memory. Avoid googling. Delay forgetting and challenge your recall first.
If you don’t know something, leave blanks. You’ll fill them out as soon as you start researching the concept. If you know nothing about the topic and its concepts, you can start exploring it online before you begin the teaching process.
3. Begin the teaching process
Now imagine yourself being a teacher or a lecturer teaching their students. Write down everything you know or found out about the concept in a teaching manner. If you have trouble doing it, think of someone you know who asked you for help. If you can have someone nearby – be they a sibling, a parent, a cousin, a classmate, a niece, a friend, or a colleague – it’s even better. Visualize talking to them and explaining the topic to them. As you write your detailed explanation, read everything you wrote aloud.
Think about the questions they might ask. Think about the possible answers and write them down. Also, consider the moments you or your imaginary students might lose attention. If you’re home alone, you can even create a small blackboard and bring the topic to life explaining to your imaginary students everything about that topic.
As you write everything on the blackboard or a piece of paper, think about whether or not your explanation is interesting, understandable, and engaging. You can even prepare for this imaginary lesson in advance and keep some notes focused on the chosen topic.
4. Determine specifically and clearly the concepts you have difficulty explaining
Once you finish the teaching stage, it will be easier to determine your gaps and see questions you can’t answer without proper research. Pay attention to the concepts you were struggling to explain during the teaching process. Were there any details that you forgot to mention? Pay attention to the tiniest detail. Write notes of everything you missed or didn’t know and of those concepts you failed to explain.
During this stage, you can re-write everything once again if your notes look unclear or there are too many gaps to fill. Let yourself enough time so that you could end up with clearly written text.
5. Find another way to explain it
Relearn your concepts, read your text, and see if it’s easy to understand. If it contains too many difficult words, use plain English to make it look simpler. As soon as you find out another way to explain the topic, repeat steps 2 and 3.
You don’t have to change the entire text. Revisit the hard-to-understand concepts only and list all possible methods to explain them. Google those concepts and see where you made a mistake. If Google doesn’t help, ask your mentor, teacher, colleague, or boss to explain the certain concept from a totally different angle.
6. Make it as simple as possible
We like to make everything complicated, so chances are, your explanation isn’t as simple as it seems. Read it once again and play with the words by replacing complex words with simpler ones. By simplifying your explanation, it would be easier for you to understand and remember it.
If you think it’s impossible to simplify your text, try visualization. Imagine teaching this topic to non-native speakers. Or, imagine yourself being a non-native speaker. Use shorter sentences and fewer words. Look for visual and engaging analogies.
This stage seems to be pointless. In reality, it will aid in understanding all the concepts better and embedding the topic deeply in your mind.
7. Ask your family or friends to help you
Not everyone can teach imaginary students, so what about having real ones? Ask your family or friends to help you. With simplified and polished text, you can confidently teach the topic to others. This method is particularly essential for those preparing for the finals or an important presentation in a multimillion dollar company.
You can also become a mentor or a coach – whether for free or a decent payment. Or, you can write an article on this topic. Regardless of how you’re going to present your chosen topic to others, make sure you do it. This way, you’ll remember the topic for many years to come.
How to Use the Feynman Technique Final Thoughts
If you’re a lifelong learner, dedicate one notebook to the Feynman technique. This will become your place of easy learning. This notebook will help your knowledge grow in a simple yet effective way. Remember, you can use the Feynman technique everywhere. It can even show you the fundamentals of deeper, meaningful, and successful work. Knowledge is the key to successful learning and career.
The Feynman technique might seem complicated or too time-consuming in the beginning. When working through the Feynman technique for the first time, try thinking like a child. Unlike adults, kids are curious and they ask many questions. If you have no idea where to start, pretend to be a child and come up with a list of the questions regarding your chosen topic.
Once you master this technique though, you might want to use it in different situations. Feel free to alter the steps mentioned above if needed.
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