Whether you’re a student, a professional, or a hobbyist looking to expand your knowledge on a particular subject, the Feynman Technique can help you. In this article, you’ll learn what the Feynman Technique is, why it’s effective, and how to use it in your studies or lifelong quest for learning.
An Introduction to the Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique is a learning and problem-solving strategy named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. It’s a simple but effective technique to improve your understanding of complex topics, concepts, or problems. It involves four steps:
Step 1: Choose a concept or problem you want to understand. It could be a topic from a textbook, a scientific principle, or a mathematical equation.
Step 2: Teach the concept to a nonexpert. Describe it, in writing or speech, as though you’re talking to someone who has no knowledge of the subject. Use simple language and examples to make the content easy to understand. Doing this will help you identify any gaps or weaknesses in your own understanding.
Step 3: Identify the gaps in your knowledge. Note the parts of the concept that you struggled to explain or could not simplify. These are the gaps in your knowledge that you need to work on.
Step 4: Review and simplify. Go back to the original source material and review the concept or problem again. This time, focus on the areas where you struggled and simplify the language or examples until you fully understand them. Then, repeat step 2 and see if you can explain the concept or problem in simpler terms.
Who Was Richard Feynman?
Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist. People regard him widely as one of the most brilliant physicists of the twentieth century who made significant contributions to several areas of physics, including quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, and particle physics.
Feynman received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939 and his PhD from Princeton University in 1942. During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons.
After the war, he held positions at various universities and research institutions, including Cornell University, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1965, Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga for their contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics.
Feynman was also a famous lecturer and author, and his lectures on physics are still popular among students and scientists today. Overall, he was committed to learning and teaching others about his findings and discoveries.
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How to Use the Feynman Technique
At its core, the Feynman Technique is based on the learning by teaching method. The technique relates to the common benchmark of understanding a concept: Can you explain this to a six-year-old in a way that they can understand it?
If so, then you’ve reached a certain higher level of understanding in your particular topic or subject area. If not, then you most likely need to go back and review the parts you could not sufficiently explain to the child.
Become a Tutor
If you’re struggling with essay writing, then signing up to be a tutor at your school may seem counterintuitive. However, tutoring is a great way to apply the Feynman Technique and enhance your personal knowledge of a subject you struggle with. By having someone rely on you to help them learn about a subject they struggle with, you’re forcing yourself to take the time to learn and understand that subject deeply.
If you aren’t prepared to be a tutor, then start a study group. Each week, each person in the group can teach about a particular topic to the other members. Doing this is another easy way to hold yourself accountable without having the extra pressure you might feel from being a tutor.
Become a Mentor
If you’re out of academia and are looking for other ways to apply the Feynman Technique, then consider becoming a mentor or local expert through clubs or organizations. For example, if you’re interested in learning more about wilderness skills or testing your knowledge of them, you could sign up to work at a summer camp.
The Feynman Technique is a great way to teach another person about a subject, identify gaps in your knowledge, and pursue learning opportunities to bridge those gaps. It promotes lifelong learning and the pursuit of knowledge on every level.
You can apply the Feynman Technique to your study habits or everyday life by putting yourself in a teaching position, such as becoming a tutor or a community mentor. This forces you to learn about a topic more deeply and share that knowledge with others.
Interested in learning about other study tips so you can be a better student or lifelong learner? Check out our Study Tips page to learn more.