The Feynman Technique

Professor Amos Wizrum taught me that teaching someone is the key to deep learning. When learning something new, rather than taking direct notes; read a chapter, close the book, then write a summary from memory. You can return to the text after you finish to pick out the bits you missed. The famous Physicist Richard Feynman had a similar idea.

The Feynman technique

  1. Get out a blank piece of paper 
  2. Write a concept at the top of the page
  3. Start writing
  4. Fill in the gaps
  5. Simplify the language
  6. Add an analogy

Deep learning should be hard. We learn by repeated recall, by continual testing, not by repeated exposure. The Feynman technique is a method that uses this idea to help you understand better.

Active recall

By first putting down what you know and remember about a topic you are practising active recall and helping your brain remember the concept in future. Write this as if you were explaining it to someone else that does not understand it at all. After you have everything you can remember out of your head, go back and review what you are not sure about from your notes, through a web search, or in a book, and add to your page. Revisiting source material will fill in the gaps in your knowledge and provide feedback on how accurately you remember the things you wrote down.  

Analogy: a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. 

Oxford Languages

Make it relatable

Once you have written down what you remember and added to this from other sources, simplify the language and have a go at adding an original analogy. As a child, Richard Feynman used to go for walks with his father and discuss anything Richard was curious about. To help Richard understand, his father would use analogies, for example, when describing how big a Tyrannosaurus rex was, Feynman’s father related it to the size of their home, saying if it were standing outside, his head would be tall enough to reach Richards bedroom window. By connecting challenging to understand things to those that his son would encounter each day, he could speed up Richards learning. 

Have a go with something you are trying to learn

Set yourself a time limit of 20-25 minutes, or a Pomodoro. Try to do this once per day; you could even turn it into a blog.

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