Learning with the Feynman Technique

If Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger are the poster boys of quantum mechanics, then Richard Feynman is the unanimously heralded spokesperson for it. At least in the physics community. Feynman was the Nobel Prize winner in Physics for his fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics in 1965. Future generations will remember him as the father of quantum computing. Known as the "great explainer" Feynman is widely regarded for his unmatched ability to explain complex phenomena in a clear and simple way. A predecessor to Neil deGrasse Tyson of sorts. Albeit,  from an era where the seemingly omnipresent aura of social media didn't exist. His method of learning is known as the Feynman Technique.The Feynman Technique is described with clarity in James Gleick's 1993 biography, "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman." According to the book, Feynman mastered his exams at Princeton University by doing the following "He opened a fresh notebook. On the title page, he wrote: Notebook of Things I Don't Know About. He worked for weeks at disassembling each branch of physics. Dismantling and assembling all the notes he had taken. Looking all the while for the inconsistencies and the kernels, he tried to find the crucial elements of each subject. Below I summarize how Feynman approaches comprehending a subject.

Pick a Topic You Want to Understand & Start Studying it

Initially, write everything you know about a subject you want to learn on a notebook. Subsequently, add every new thing you learn to that book. For example, let's consider you want to learn the rules of tennis. First, you would write down everything you already know. Then peruse through training manuals and web content to construct the knowledge base. Youtube videos would be an outstanding source as well.

Pretend to Teach Your Topic to a Classroom

Try to explain the topic in simple terms to someone or yourself. This practice will make visible the kinks in your knowledge about the topic. In the tennis example, you may stagnate if someone asks what's a "let." So, learning to articulate the topic leads to honing your knowledge.

Go Back to the Books When You Get Stuck

When you stumble upon gaps in your command of the topic, you research and study those sections. Revisit problem areas until you can explain the topic fully. Going back to our example, you will figure out what a "let" is in tennis and be able to explain that to anyone.

Simplify & Use Analogies

Continue the process while simplifying your language and delivery. Linking facts with analogies help strengthen your understanding. Make slides with images that will help you connect the material with the image. For instance, a picture of the tennis court delineating the out of bounds markers. Or picturing the backhand as analogous to throwing a Frisbee.In "Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun," David Goodstein writes that Feynman prided himself on being able to explain the most complex ideas in the simplest terms. Goodstein once asked Feynman to explain why "spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac." Feynman replied that he'd prepare a freshman lecture on it, but then he came back a few days later empty handed. "I couldn't reduce it to freshman level," he admitted to Goodstein. "That means we don't understand it." That is to say, if Feynman couldn't explain something in simple terms, there was a problem with the information, not with Feynman's teaching ability.