Named for Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, this technique harnesses the power of teaching as an engine for better learning. On the surface, it can seem somewhat like a paradox — teaching something in order to learn it — but it’s proven to be among the most effective and inspiring learning techniques ever devised, not to mention relatively straightforward and accessible, allowing just about anyone to make use of it.
In today’s blog, we’re exploring the Feynman Technique – what it is, how it works, and how it can benefit your learning.
What is the Feynman Technique?
The Feynman Technique is a 4-step learning method originally used by noted American Nobel laureate Richard Feynman. The main idea behind the technique is to take something that’s hard to understand and try to clarify it in your mind by explaining it as if you were talking to a child. In doing this, the learner is compelled to simplify the ideas in their mind and use clear and concise language. The larger idea then becomes simpler to understand.
The other key element of the “teaching” method of learning is to help identify where gaps in the knowledge are. When one thinks of a concept purely in their own mind, their perception of their understanding is usually fairly warped. We get it in our minds, but when it comes to the details, it’s hard to know what exactly we’re missing. The best way to reveal those missing details is to try and explain them to someone who doesn’t know the idea — like a child.
When you are explaining something out loud, suddenly, the things you are unclear about yourself become abundantly noticeable. In essence, it’s a way of taking nebulous and incoherent thoughts and then quantifying just how much you really grasp about it yourself.
How Does it Work?
As we mentioned above, there are four basic steps to employ the Feynman Technique.
Step 1: Choose a subject
First, clearly identify the specific area of knowledge or understanding that you wish to learn about. You can then read about it, make notes and come to your initial understanding as you might normally do so.
Step 2: Pretend to explain this knowledge to a child
Speaking aloud, act as though you are explaining this knowledge, theory, or other idea to a child. You will have to simplify your words, perhaps come up with analogies, and be able to cover the necessary details as you go through.
Step 3: Reflect on gaps in your understanding
The next step is to then look back at your explanation and see where the gaps in your knowledge were. Which parts did you struggle to explain? Which details did you miss? Answering these questions will reveal where you have failed to pick up on key points, so you can then return to your source material and review those key points to improve your understanding.
Step 4: Simplify and repeat step 2
Based on your reflection in step 3 and subsequent return to the source material, you can further simplify and refine your explanation and repeat the second step. When you can create an explanation that encompasses all the elements properly, then you have succeeded.
Benefits of the Feynman Technique
Identifying Knowledge Gaps
The main plank of the Feynman Technique is its help identifying where we currently have gaps in our knowledge. Those who restrict their learning to the confines of their own mind often think that they know the detail, but when they are called on to explain that same detail, the gaps present themselves, and it’s too late. The Feynman Technique identifies early and quickly where those gaps are and how we can plug them.
Improves Communication Skills
Understanding something in your head is one thing but communicating it to others is an entirely different skill. When you learn with the Feynman Technique, you not only boost your understanding by filling in knowledge gaps, but you also strengthen your skills in communicating knowledge to others. You are killing two birds with one stone.
It’s Conducive to Critical Thinking
A key part of the Feynman Technique is using critical thinking to identify knowledge gaps and then plug them with the source materials. In addition, you have to create new and innovative explanations for tricky ideas. When you put all of this together, you get a strong exercise in critical thinking; being able to look back on something and work on improving it. This skill translates beautifully into our daily lives.
Learn to Learn with the Feynman Technique
Now you can see that learning by teaching is not as paradoxical as it sounds. The act of explaining something to someone who can’t grasp all the jargon is the ideal way to ensure that you are completely in control of all the facts.
If you want to broaden your skills and take your learning to the next level, contact CSI today to discuss your options.