With the Feynman Technique, you learn by teaching someone else a topic in simple terms so you can quickly pinpoint the holes in your knowledge. After four steps, you’re able to understand concepts more deeply and better retain the information.
Why It’s Important
The Feynman Technique is a mental model that was coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman. Known as the “Great Explainer,” Feynman was revered for his ability to clearly illustrate dense topics like quantum physics for virtually anybody. In “Feynman’s Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun,” David Goodstein writes that Feynman prided himself on being able to explain the most complex ideas in the simplest terms.
Goodstein once asked Feynman to explain why “spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac.” Feynman replied that he’d prepare a freshman lecture on it, but then he came back a few days later empty handed. “I couldn’t reduce it to freshman level,” he admitted to Goodstein. “That means we don’t really understand it.” That is to say, if Feynman couldn’t explain something in simple terms, there was a problem with the information, not with Feynman’s teaching ability.
Why People Are Talking About It
The Feynman Technique is laid out clearly in James Gleick’s 1993 biography, “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.” In the book, Gleick explains the method in terms of how Feynman mastered his exams at Princeton University: “He opened a fresh notebook. On the title page he wrote: NOTEBOOK OF THINGS I DON’T KNOW ABOUT. For the first but not last time he reorganized his knowledge. He worked for weeks at disassembling each branch of physics, oiling the parts, and putting them back together, looking all the while for the raw edges and inconsistencies. He tried to find the essential kernels of each subject.” This is the first part of his process, but let’s take a look at all four steps:
- Pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it. Write down everything you know about the topic on a notebook page, and add to that page every time you learn something new about it.
- Pretend to teach your topic to a classroom. Make sure you’re able to explain the topic in simple terms.
- Go back to the books when you get stuck. The gaps in your knowledge should be obvious. Revisit problem areas until you can explain the topic fully.
- Simplify and use analogies. Repeat the process while simplifying your language and connecting facts with analogies to help strengthen your understanding.
The Feynman Technique is perfect for learning a new idea, understanding an existing idea better, remembering an idea, or studying for a test. We weren’t kidding when we said it was good for anything. How would you use this technique?