Understanding The Feynman Technique

If you want to understand something well then explain it.

That sounds pretty obvious to a teacher but as all teachers know, explaining things in simple language is a complex business.

The best way to learn anything then revolves around explaining a concept in simple language as if you were teaching it to someone else.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman invented a mental model for learning just about anything. There are four steps to the Feynman Technique:

1. Choose a Concept

Write the name of what you want to learn on a blank piece of paper. Now write down everything that you already know about this area or subject including every bit of information that you can recall about the subject or have learned in the past. When you learn something new, add to it. Look for gaps in your knowledge and inconsistencies

2. Teach it

Write down an explanation of the concept on the page using plain English and pretend you are teaching it to someone else.  How and where would you start? How would explain it in simple terms? This will highlight what you know, don’t know and partly know.

3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material

Review what you have pinpointed you don’t know then go back to the source material, re-read, and re-learn it.

4. Review and Simplify (optional)

If you are using flowery, ‘wordy’ or confusing language then filter, simplify and try again and use analogies and metaphors to understand it better. Repeat until you find clarity.

The following video from Scott Young sums up this recipe for real learning:

The Feynman Technique is a great strategy for learning something new, deepening your understanding of a concept, enhancing your recall of certain ideas, and revising for tests. It helps to connect with concepts on a deeper level and modify complex ideas and subjects into seemingly easier ones.

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