The Feynman Technique: How to Learn Anything

Try describing something to a child. If they understand, then so do you.

“Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.” — Richard Feynman

Do you learn to know the name of a thing?

Or do you learn to know the thing? The difference is important. My schooling as a child was optimized for memorizing names. Rarely was I encouraged to take a peek behind them.

Behind every name lies the infinite complexity of the universe, unfolding like the layers of an onion with each successive Why.

When not subdued by our educational system into settling for names, children are relentless with one Why after another. So it is only appropriate that my favorite method of learning requires an explanation they can understand.

The Feynman Technique is named after physicist Richard Feynman, who was a master of describing complex phenomena in simple terms. His explanation of the atom is a perfect example:

“All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”— Richard Feynman

My application of the Feynman Technique in four steps:

  1. Write in your own words everything you know about a concept. As you run across new sources of information, add a new note.

  2. Reduce each note to terms a sixth grader can understand. No technical jargon. No complicated words. Be concise.

  3. Identify gaps in your knowledge. What are you missing? What do you still not understand? Return to the source of the concept and better understand each gap by applying #1 and #2.

  4. Organize. Simplify. Form a compelling narrative from your notes. Use short, simple sentences and analogies. Read it out loud. Run it by someone who knows little of the concept. Refine until fluid and effective.

At the end of this process, you will graduate from knowing the name of a thing to knowing the thing. You will explain it in simple terms. You will understand.

🤔 Food for Thought:

What new concept have you learned recently?

Can you explain it in your own words?

Can you explain it to a child?

⚙️ One Small Step:

Try describing something you just read, heard or saw in your own words. In the process of doing this, you often find just how little you understand!