Richard Feynman was quite a character. He was a genius physicist who pioneered a whole field of physics, quantum electrodynamics, a philosopher, and a brilliant teacher. While not everyone is interested in physics, everyone can benefit from the technique he pioneered for learning and teaching, named after him.
Feynman worked on extremely complex subjects and concepts in physics and had to find ways to explain them to others and also visualize them himself. Here is how the Feynman techniques go.
The first thing you want to do is to break down the complex language you might use. Instead, use simple words and simple concepts. For example, if you are talking about business, you might be tempted to use complex-sounding words and vague concepts like synergy or holistic.
However, these buzzwords often make you harder to understand and even make it harder for you to understand yourself. Instead, try to put the same thing in a simpler language.
For instance, instead of synergy, you might say: working well towards the same goal. Don’t be afraid of simple language; it helps you make your point clearly. The same applies to learning something – if a text or a speaker is using complex words, define them and try to break them down into something that is easier and uses a common vocabulary.
The second element is to make the context relatable. Identify how the topic relates to you, your life, your interests, or, respectively, the life and interests of the person or people you are trying to teach. Make connections that help them relate to the ideas or understand them through stories and metaphors that reflect their own or your own experience.
Take a topic. Identify everything you know about the subject already. When you acquire new information, add it to the notebook or document you are keeping. Build up a knowledge base that reflects your current understanding.
The next step is to explain the concept or topic as if you were talking to a child. Kids won’t understand a complex language or something too abstract and far from their current experience. This will push you towards a better understanding of the topic and also towards finding better ways of explaining it in simple terms.
Once you do the teaching, you will easily identify the gaps in your knowledge. What is it that you still don’t know? At which points did you struggle to simplify or had to fall back on jargon to get your idea across? Go back to your sources and try to fill in those gaps; then repeat the previous step and see whether there are some things you still do not understand.
Next, you will organize and simplify what you have. Make everything shorter and simpler until you can put the idea in only a few words and still get it across. Organize it into a story or an analogy that is easy to understand. Even complex concepts, when put in this way, become a lot more accessible and stick with you in the long term.
The Feynman technique has several advantages:
• It allows you to test and update your knowledge. You will recognize the gaps you have and be able to fill them without issue. You might engage in an in-depth learning process even if you are not an expert or have no access to a teacher.
• It ensures that you have an in-depth understanding of the topic. It forces you to go beyond rote memorization and actually engage with the concepts on your own terms.
• It leads to long-term engagement. You won’t just forget what you’ve learned after a few days. Instead, you will keep that knowledge.
• It provides you with the knowledge you can use. Because the Feynman technique requires you to simplify concepts, you can see and recognize the practical applications they might have, which can be concealed behind a complex language.
• It allows you to teach others anything. The Feynman technique is widely applicable. Not only do you become better at learning, but you also discover a way of teaching other people new skills and knowledge in an efficient way.