The Feynman learning technique: A better way of learning

Ever been in a place where you skimmed through a book or mugged up enough to pass a test? Yeah, we’ve all been there and done that!
Actual learning happens when you can explain it and use it in a wide variety of situations. And that is where the Feynman Technique comes in. And yes, you can learn just about anything using this technique.

The Feynman Learning Technique has four steps meant to help you navigate your learning system in itself and make it more efficient. Devised by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, it leverages the power of teaching for better learning.

Step 1. Pretend to teach it to a child or a rubber duck

 A common way we mask our lack of understanding is by using complicated vocabulary and jargon. 

Imagine you have to explain something to a child. Will jargons help? Uh-huh!

Write out an idea from start to finish in simple language that a child can understand. This way, you understand the concept at a deeper level. You can better explain the why behind your description of the what.

There will be areas in the concept where you have a clear understanding of the subject. But others may not be crystal clear, and the next step leads to that.

Step 2. Identify gaps in your explanation

Areas where you struggle in Step 1, are the points where you have some gaps in your understanding.

Identifying gaps in your knowledge. This is a critical part of the learning process. Filling those gaps is when you make the learning stick.

Go back to your sources, add more research to add value to your understanding. The more your research, the better will be your ability to filter through important things.

Step 3. Organize and simplify

This step of the organization also helps you recap in one go the structure of a concept you just learned.  Organize your notes into a narrative that you can tell from beginning to end. Then, go back to step 1 and 2 and keep iterating until you have a story to tell to anyone who will listen.

Step 4. Transmit 

This step is optional. If you want to be sure of your understanding, run it past someone (ideally someone who knows little of the subject). 

Feedbacks and questions can be insightful to enhance your understanding further.

Richard Feynman suggests that when you know something truly, you may not even need a vocabulary for the concept. That is what he defines as “true” learning. 

Knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand it.

So you may not know what an “apple” is called, but you would know everything there is to know about it.

In a short book called The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist, Feynman describes how learning is not about just what the books one reads, but socialization and other factors influence how we perceive things.

How do we sort all factors out for most relevance then becomes the question?

There are seven tricks to navigating this. The first is to identify if the person sharing knowledge with us knows what they are talking about. 

The key is to ask naive questions. Then, when you ask the most basic questions, you will pinpoint if there are logical fallacies. 
The second trick has to do with dealing with uncertainty. Classify things on a gradient from “probably true” to “probably false” and how we deal with that uncertainty.

The third trick is the realization that as we investigate whether something is true or not, new evidence and new methods of experimentation should show the effect of getting stronger and stronger, not weaker.

The fourth trick is to ask the right question, “Is this actually the case?” 

Keep questioning our belief systems and keep them in check with where the world is moving.

The fifth trick is to try the probability of a theory before it translates to reality. People often falter and think of things after something has happened. 

The sixth trick is to use statistics and data over anecdotal content samples. Empirical data is what makes for logical competencies.
The seventh and last trick is to realize that many errors people make simply come from a lack of information.

Knowledge is what helps us get through the world and its systems.

Always be willing and question your knowledge, and the knowledge of others is how you keep improving. Learning is a journey.


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