The Feynman Technique: Learning Made Simple

Written by Priscilla Clarita

4/26/20225 min read

Born on May 11 1918, American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman was known for his contributions to physics-related works, from the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics to the development of quantum electrodynamics, but what makes him an intelligent Nobel prize-winning physicist is his own method of studying with a purpose to develop a better understanding in form of simplified learning, which was one of the intentions of his success from his understanding in its difference with only knowing something. (Parrish, The Feynman technique: The best way to learn anything 2021)

As a physics student at Princeton University, he observed and compared the things he knew with the ones he did not know, and as a result, he had a collection of lesson notebooks recorded. The title page of his biography written by James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, mentioned that he disassembled each branch of physics and managed to find the core concepts of each subject. (Pachikov, Learning from the Feynman technique 2018)

Feynman currently became one of the most well-known scientists in the world, and his impactful works can be seen through his books, like the 1959 talk about top-down nanotechnology in There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, and lectures, like his three-volume publication titled The Feynman Lectures on Physics. He was a highly passionate thinker that inspired many pioneers, such as Bill Gates because of Feynman’s pedagogy, and Albert Einstein because of Feynman’s first talk as a graduate student on learning. Moreover, he encouraged students to think like scientists: have an open-minded mindset, be curious, and doubt. (Wikipedia, Richard Feynman 2021) How did his learning method influence his success?

There are four repeatable steps to help anyone learn anything better using this technique:

  • Study something: Are you eager to learn something? Well, no matter how familiar you are with something, write down in detail what you know and learn more about it. Remember to find its core concepts for better understanding, and it is recommended to use different-coloured pens for progressive learning.

  • Teach to a child: Once you have fully understood something, explain it to a child, though it is better to do so using a real one, for they will be active and able to critique your teaching to fill your knowledge gaps. Keep the words simple to let them understand and help them complete their “missing puzzles” in their developing brains, for it will help you to learn as well because complexity only avoids the open mind to understand and be creative in a given capacity.

  • Revise and search for the unknown: To fully understand unknown things from your teaching, review the things you have learned to avoid any unreliable and complex explanations. Do you miss anything? What did and did you not know? Keep in mind these key concepts with a focus, in order to strengthen your knowledge of things you did not understand to prevent the Illusion of Competence, a developed concept of competence model by Noel Burch, (MindTools, The Conscious Competence Ladder: Developing awareness of your skill levels) which is the thought that you have mastered a topic, but you actually did not. (Jobes, Study Trap: "Illusions of Competence," Or When You Actually Don't Know What You Think You Know) Highlighting unknown things helps you to collect and organize your notes in a simplified form, and with any unlimited resources (e.g. lecture notes and videos, books, etc) available as a learning support, you will be able to understand the unknown and be encouraged to dive in for more knowledge.

  • Organize to simplify: Ready to keep things simple?: Organize everything you need into simplified notes, but it is important to understand the core concepts and their correlations with other things. This can be done by using analogies and simple sentences, color-coded symbols or signs, etc to create an easier yet understandable learning that can be reviewed at any time.

A study titled An Alternative Method of Online Learning Using The Feynman Technique by Adhina Rizkillah Harahap stated that the Feynman study technique encouraged students to be more active because not only they listened to their lesson teachers when teaching, but they also answered any question given and helped themselves and their friends by asking questions when confused. They even reminded their teachers if they missed anything during the lesson. Despite a lot of internet expenses needed for this, these can be done through texting using chat platforms like WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, LINE, etc to ask questions after or outside school. (Harahap, An alternative method of online learning using the Feynman technique 2020)

In conclusion, The Feynman Technique is a learning method that turns complex information into simple explanations to unleash a better understanding of a concept. By choosing a topic of interest for studying, teaching and explaining it as if to a child, revising and filling the knowledge gaps, and organizing for a simplified yet informative understanding, anyone can fully master a concept with repetition and discipline beforehand. Furthermore, it helps save and balance work and life due to the importance of understanding core concepts in simplified notes, so why bother studying with this technique?

(The Nobel Prize, n.d.)