Richard Feynman was an American physicist who received a Nobel prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. Undoubtedly a genius, and a bit of a curious character, Richard Feynman was also known as “The Great Explainer”. He would frequently diverge from formal lecturing and employ diagrams and illustrations to convey complex topics and relationships to his students. He was notorious for asking others to explain concepts in a simple language to test their understanding, and his passionate delivery brought to his talks and lectures visionaries such as Albert Einstein or Bill Gates. His unparalleled teaching style, condensed into 4 simple points, became known as “The best way to learn (almost) anything”.
The full story
Feynman’s learning technique is effective for learning something new, deepening your understanding of what you already know, or helping you study for an exam.
The first step is to pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it. Once you know what it is about, take a piece of paper and write about it, as if you’re teaching the idea to someone else. Ideally write and speak at the same time, just as a teacher does it at the blackboard.
This makes you realize which parts you understand and where you still have gaps. Whenever you get stuck, go back to study and repeat that process until you have explained the whole topic from start to end.
When you’re done, repeat the process from the beginning, but this time simplify your language or use a graphic analogy to make a point. If your explanation ends up wordy or confusing, you probably have not understood it well enough, so you should start again.
Thinking about an idea by explaining it makes this learning method very effective. Once you can explain an idea in simple language, you have deeply understood it and will remember it for a long time.
Richard Feynman was a leading theoretical physicist who received a Nobel prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He was notorious for asking his fellow mathematicians to explain concepts in simple language to test their understanding.
“The reason why teachers are smart”– Flame
- Richard Feynman – Wikipedia
- Richard Feynman – Britannica
- Richard Feynman’s First Lecture – Medium
- How to Use the Feynman Technique to Learn Faster – College Info Geek
- Learning From the Feynman Technique – Medium
- The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Anything – Farnam Street
- Read the full script here – by Sprouts
Feeling inspired by Feynman? Get inspired by his thoughts on teaching:
- On teaching – Excerpt from an interview
- Richard P. Feynman on teaching quotes from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”
- The Great Explainer: The Story of Richard Feynman – all in one book
To many, the Feynman technique may seem intuitive, but it’s never a bad idea to build good learning habits the usual way; with practice! Allocate a part of your lesson as a time where your students can practice at least one step from the Feynman technique. Perhaps design a project activity where a part of a new topic is to be explained by one student (or a group). You may share hints on what specifically from that part of the topic is important, and give feedback on how they present the concept. Having you as an aid to fact check and guide whilst actively engaging with the learning materials could work wonders for your students!