The Feynman Technique
Einstein is credited with a wonderful quote that cuts to the heart of this model: “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.”
The Feynman Technique is a learning and sense-making method that involves explaining a new concept to an imaginary child to expose gaps in your understanding and embed your learning.
The Feynman Technique involves the following steps:
- Choose a Topic. An area of study or complex concept.
- Explore. Research, think about and learn about the topic.
- Explain it simply. Imagine explaining it to an intelligent child. This includes using simple language, analogies and/ or diagrams.
- Target your gaps. Continue to explore the topic, targeting the areas you struggled to explain and simplify.
IT’S MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.
The Feynman Technique is a deceptively simple approach that delivers a range of benefits, including increasing your ability to:
- Learn rapidly: it pinpoints your knowledge gaps making your study time targeted and efficient.
- Learn despite biases: It challenges your ‘illusion of competence’, where recognising content is mistaken for understanding and learning it.
- Integrate with Spaced Retrieval: it can feed into the ‘retrieval’ aspect of Spaced Retrieval, which is one of the most evidence-based memory hacks available.
- Leverage a ‘teachers mindset’: it puts a learner in the mindset of having to explain what they’re exploring, which has been shown to increase learning.
- Make connections: the use of analogies and diagrams helps to connect new concepts with your prior knowledge and mental models, which is at the heart of effective learning and understanding.
MORE THAN A STUDY HACK, A WAY OF THINKING.
The Feynman Technique is generally posed as a ‘study hack’, but we’d argue it has broader application to experiential learning and sense-making. Framing any experience with the need to explain your lessons will help you to embed deeper reflection, sense-making, and learning as habits.
LEARN OUT LOUD.
You can go further with The Feynman Technique by moving beyond pretend conversations with an imaginary child and consider how you might communicate your learning via real conversations, blog/ social media posts, journals, videos, or other forms of presentations.
You can share the fact that you're still new to the topic as a form of 'learning out loud.' Doing this has the joint benefits of learning and helping to build your personal learning network and community.