What is the Feynman Technique?
“If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” goes the saying. Richard Feynman was a genius physicist and a great teacher. Awarded with Nobel
Prize for presenting his theory in Quantum Physics. This technique is named
after him. Feynman had a perfect grasp on the complex concepts of science in
general and physics in particular that he would explain it simply in a layman
language to his students using analogies which they already understood. For his
such extraordinary explanations, he was called “The Great Explainer”. Once in
an interview for BBC, he explained very clearly how the fire
starts and continue for quite some time. Here is an excerpt:
” The atoms like each other to different degrees. Oxygen, for instance in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they’re getting near each other, they snap together. If they’re not too close though, they repel and they go apart, so they don’t know
that they could snap together.
It’s just as if you have a ball that was rolling and trying to climb a hill and there was a hole it could go into. Like a volcano hole, a deep one. It’s rolling along, and it doesn’t go
down in the deep the volcano hole, because it starts to climb the hill and it
rolls away again. But if you make it go fast enough, it’ll fall into the hole.
So if you set something like wood in oxygen…there’s carbon in the wood from a tree. And the oxygen comes and hits the carbon, but not hard enough. It just goes away again. The air is always moving but nothing’s happening. If you can get it fast enough, by heating it up somehow. A few of them come past, a few of them go over the top, so to speak.
They come close enough of the carbon and snap-in and they give a lot of jiggly
motion which might hit some other atoms, making those go faster so they can
climb up and bump against other carbon atoms and they jiggle and then make
other’s jiggle and you get a terrible catastrophe which is one after the other
all these things are going faster and faster and snapping and the whole thing
is changing. That catastrophe is a fire.”
Such explanations make the so-called dry science interesting for a learner because it stimulates the imaginative power and makes learning fun.
How to learn
efficiently using the Feynman Technique
Almost everyone would have or would be facing teachers in their lifespan (pun intended), teaching them in a way that they don’t understand. Don’t worry. That’s the way things would be if we are not using the Feynman technique (how important this technique is if teachers want to be loved by students).
Top students around the world are using the Feynman Technique for effective, quick, and long-term learning. An important fact ignored by most students is the difference between knowing the name of something and understanding something. Real understanding needs solid and concrete knowledge which can be explained to others without giving them a tough time.
To make practical and easy to follow, the Feynman Technique is broken down into four steps.
Take out a piece of blank paper and write the concept name on the top. Although Richard Feynman was a physicist which the technique is named after but can be used for any kind of learning in any field.
This step is the most interesting one, which I personally like the most. Try to explain whatever you know about the concept, to someone especially a child of sixth or seventh grade [may be hypothetical] in simple and easy to understand language, avoiding complicated terminologies and jargons. Children do not understand technical terminologies so this would force you to explain it more and more simple. Doing this can help in activating and recalling the previous knowledge as well as stimulating the brain for future learning by raising and asking questions to yourself like “Do I really understand this”, “How can I explain it better” etc. Whenever there is something, we don’t know much about it, which always is the case, what we do is go through our books, notes, and other materials.
So, we explained whatever we knew about the concept, but it was not enough. Now we need to consult books and other reading materials to smoothen the bumps and unevenness in our understanding. What we do is go through our books and notes, clarify the vague concepts, and fill our knowledge gaps. We already have too many questions in our mind so it is very easy and quick to learn in this step using our learning resources.
Here we try to explain the concept in the simplest possible terms and if the simplification is not possible, we use analogies. We compare the abstract concepts with something intuitive that we observe in our daily life just as Richard Feynman explained the fire using the analogies of ball, hill and volcano hole, etc. When we are capable of doing so, our understanding is at the peak level, learning is effective and long-lasting.
Feynman’s technique is a mental model for effective learning no matter how difficult the concept is. Students facing difficulties in their studies and exams can use this for increasing their productivity and grades. Everyone can learn anything if it is explained according to their mental frame of reference or in other words, using analogies and models which they already know.