How to Learn Better with the Feynman Technique mental model

If you’ve heard of “explain something like you would if you were teaching a six year old,” you’ve heard of one of the most effective learning strategies, the Feynman Technique. In this article, we'll learn how you can use this technique to learn better in your every day life.

What’s the Feynman Technique?

Feynman Technique suggests that in order to know if you understand a concept well, you must be able to explain it in simple terms. 

Physicist  Richard Feynman used this learning strategy often in order to learn better and explain high-level physics concepts simply. This effective learning habit definitely paid off. Feynman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in physics in 1965.

How does the Feynman Technique work? 

The Feynman Technique works by forcing you to find simple ways to explain a larger, more complex topic. This strategy requires two things: 

  1. no skipping over confusing or seemingly unimportant sections, and
  2. no hiding behind complex vocabulary. 

If you can agree to these two terms, you’re ready to learn how to use the Feynman Technique!

How to use the Feynman Technique to Learn Better

Step 1: Explain a process like you would if you were teaching a kindergartner.  

A kindergartner understands many simple things. Your job is to think about what a kindergartner is familiar with, and use that to simplify your explanation. 

For example, a kindergartner likely knows how a car feels going down a hill versus up a hill. You may use this simple understanding to explain the concept of acceleration. The Feynman Technique recommends taking it slow, using drawings and outlines, and noticing what you struggle to explain.  

Step 2: Pay attention to where your explanation gets confusing.

There are going to be parts of your learning that you may not be able to fully or clearly explain on your first attempt. This is okay! 

These moments indicate what you have to learn better. Maybe the first source you were learning from wasn’t specific enough. Supplement that knowledge with information you get from another source. Questioning your understanding and reading multiple references will also help you develop a deeper understanding of the topic as a whole!

Step 3: Try again.

Repeat step 1 and if needed, repeat step 2. You’ll get better each time! And once you’ve successfully explained your understanding to someone in simple terms, go explain it to someone else. A new person will likely ask questions you didn’t consider, which will either solidify your understanding further or make you aware of what you need to learn next. Learning is a process, and the Feynman Technique helps you focus on learning what matters!

Step 4: Find new things to learn and unlock opportunities.

Let’s circle back to the example mentioned in the first paragraph. One of the reasons Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize was because he made a point of explaining something that no one else noticed, or everyone else accepted without further investigation. Apocryphal or not, this is how some of the most important discoveries are made. Newton’s explanation of gravity often begins with him being bonked on the head by a falling apple. The invention of the microwave occurred after Percy Spencer realized the candy bar in his pocket had melted.

Most of us have more downtime in our days than we realize. Whether it’s waiting for our coffee to brew or for a meeting to start, there is time that’s too short to check twitter but just long enough to become aware of everything around us. Develop an effective learning habit by feeding your curiosity in these moments and allowing yourself to wonder why things are the way they are.  If you master step 4, you’re on your way to becoming a lifelong learner.  

Using the Feynman Technique Everyday

The great thing about the Feynman Technique is that you can use it all the time.

At Work

The next time a colleague explains something complicated, summarize it as if you had to teach it to a kindergartner to confirm you understood what they meant. This has the added benefit of clearing up any miscommunications and even helping your colleague learn!  

In School

When you’re studying, you’re probably familiar with the Cornell notes strategy of making space to ask questions and simplifying concepts to learn better. It may feel like it’s taking a bit longer, but you’ll learn much faster when you’re able to explain concepts in your own words. Doing so is far more effective than endlessly rereading your notes.

Every Day

The next time you read an article online, take note on parts of the article that remind you of things you already understand well. Being able to connect new knowledge to your existing knowledge will help you learn concepts much faster! Make note of confusing sections to help remind you what to learn about next, and continue using the Feynman Technique for your learning process!