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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How to use the Feynman method of learning to great effects

How to use the Feynman method of learning to great effects

Guest post by Justin Goh (Share your insight with 56,000+ Malaysian students)
“How can I make sure of the fact that I have understood a topic clearly?”
I have encountered hundreds of similar questions from middle school students especially when they get deeply involved into the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). My answer has always been the same: “use the Feynman Technique to get it to perfection.”

So what exactly is this Feynman technique? Does it have a set of hard and fast rules? Let’s see to that in greater details in this article.
How to use the Feynman method of learning

The Feynman technique: A short history

Richard Feynman, a celebrated physicist was the inventor of this technique. He was also widely known to be a great explainer of things because of his exceptional ability to explain things in the best possible way.

What’s the Feynman technique?

The Feynman method of learning is considered to be an active form of learning. It can help students comprehend, explain and recall the subject (it can be ANYTHING, ANY topic) within a short amount of time.

The Feynman method of learning has a simplistic approach to education. It incorporates the incorporation of only 5 steps in general that are serially mentioned below:
  • The first and the foremost thing to do is to choose a concept.
  • Explain the concept to yourself (or to somebody else) as if you’re explaining it to a layman (says a 5-year old kid).
  • Point out any knowledge gap (if any).
  • Use some sort of an analogy.
  • Simplify the concept.
Take a peek at this short video to understand this in greater details-

Explaining the Feynman technique in greater details

I have already highlighted the 5 steps in my previous paragraph. In here, I will just explain it further.
  1. Choose a topic
    • ANY topic! The Feynman technique doesn’t have any limitations. It’s not like it’ll work only for science subjects and nothing else. No! It is equally efficient. So make your choice freely.
  2. Explain it to yourself as if you’re explaining it to a 5 year kid
    • This is the real deal. This is the place where you are compelled to simplify entire concepts such that even a child can understand it.
    • By forcing yourself to do that, you are actually simplifying the entire thing for your very own benefits.
  3. Is there any knowledge gap?
    • Find out whether there’s any knowledge gap in your possible explanations. If there’s any, pinpoint them. Go back to the matter and clear them up.
    • Feynman nursed this belief that if something can’t be explained in layman’s terms, there’s a problem with his comprehension, not with the information.
  4. Use your analogy
    • If your concept is abstract and is something that’s not so easily relatable to the physical world, it’s advisable to create some sort of an analogy to make it more relatable?
    • Why should you do it? Do you think that a 5 year old child can understand abstract concepts with bare ease? The entire motto of the Feynman technique is to render the subject in such a manner that even a child can understand it. Naturally an analogy becomes some sort of a necessity, rather than a luxury.
  5. Simplify the concept if it still appears to be difficult
    • If the concept appears too difficult to your liking, it might do you more good to lose some details. Still difficult? Lose some more but simplify it nonetheless. It will definitely benefit you in the long run; there’s no doubt about it.

Why should you incorporate the Feynman method of learning in your studies?

According to Richard Feynman, leaning is not about memorizing a bunch of facts and figures however difficult it might appear to be. It’s all about making difficult things easier. The Feynman technique can be used to great effects for doing the exact same things mentioned above.
There are no subject restrictions as well. From quantum physics to basic arithmetic, the Feynman technique can be used to learn anything from A to Z to near-enough perfection.

So that’s it then. It’s time to bring this article to an end for now. But before that, take a last peek at this classic quote coming from the man himself-
“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
- Richard Feynman
Honestly, can you fault his reasons that are stated in that quote of his? If you can, don’t hesitate to mention them in the comments sections below. I will be looking forward to it.

Justin Goh
Justin Goh is a former teacher and prolific writer, penning blogs to help the parents, students and the educators alike. Regularly contributing articles for MyPrivateTutor Malaysia, he prefers to write on varying aspects of education ranging from learning strategies and preparation tips to the ways to reach out to the students better.
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