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The Feynman Technique: How to learn anything in four simple steps

A renowned scientist developed this technique to help himself learn more effectively.

Want to learn something new? Try teaching it.

At least that’s what renowned physicist and scholar Richard Feynman recommended. He developed this technique to help himself learn more effectively.

Now called the Feynman Technique, it’s a helpful strategy when learning a new idea, understanding a concept better, or remembering information more adeptly.   

Feynman was an instrumental figure in 20th-century science, contributing to numerous scientific fields and winning a Nobel Prize for physics in 1965. He was also considered a brilliant teacher, adept at making complex concepts easier to grasp and more approachable for students.  

What is the Feynman Technique?

It’s very basic and revolves around a simple concept: In order to learn something better, try teaching it.  

This is the four-step process:

Step 1: Decide on a topic or subject you want to learn about and start studying it. Fill up a notebook with everything you know about the subject and continue adding new bits of information as you learn them.  

Step 2: Now teach the subject, either to a pretend audience or a real one (an audience of one works great), paying particular attention to explaining the topic as simply and clearly as possible.

Step 3: Your teaching lesson should make clear what aspects of the topic you fully understand and which areas need refinement and additional study. 

Hit the books again to strengthen those weaker areas and to solidify the areas you do have a strong grasp on. Focus on the problem areas until you feel comfortable explaining the logic to your “audience.”

Step 4: Then simplify and use analogies. Go through the process again and continue to strip down the language. Enhance your understanding of the facts by creating your own analogies to build a wider, more comprehensive mastery of the subject. 

Why does it work?

It sounds straightforward enough, but why is the Feynman Technique any more effective than just studying? 

Joshua Gerlick, a doctor of management fellow at Case Western Reserve University, believes that within a learning environment the Feynman Technique is invaluable. 

“I rely extensively on the Feynman Technique as it relates to helping students identify gaps in their thinking,” Gerlick told Considerable, adding that this approach creates a more dynamic learning atmosphere than the typical lecture or powerpoint. 

“The Feynman Technique helps students better analyze connections among ideas, argue and support their thinking, and design new or original creative work.”
Joshua Gerlick
Case Western Reserve University

“The active learning classroom — a common representation of the Feynman Technique in practice — helps students better analyze connections among ideas, argue and support their thinking, and design new or original creative work.”

According to Gerlick, “Sufficient recent evidence suggests that when students use knowledge as part of their learning sequence, it produces a longer-lasting effect than merely acquiring knowledge through traditional methods.”

While some institutions of learning have already embraced approaches like this, Gerlick sees it becoming even more prevalent in the future. 

“As such, while the basis of the Feynman Technique has existed for over 50 years, practical methods of instruction that employ the Technique are relatively recent and gaining momentum in the classroom.”

Using this technique may not result in winning a Nobel Prize, but it could help you learn and retain knowledge better than before and who knows, you might just surprise yourself.

You’re never too old to learn something new.

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High Achiever

At 22, she was called “the next Einstein.” What’s she up to today?

Her research could change the way we understand the universe.

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Michael Kovac/Getty Images

By the time she was 13, Sabrina Gonzalez Paterski had both built and learned to fly her own aircraft. A year later, she proceeded to take solo flight in that very plane.

Shortly after, that same teenage girl walked into the campus offices at MIT, seeking approval for her single-engine plane. She received it. So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that at just 21 years old, Pasterski was already a physics Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.

The Chicago native’s research in high-energy physics theory has taken the physics world by storm. When she was 22, a profile in OZY referred to her as “the next Einstein.” To this, she told InStyle, “No one will be Einstein. He was who he was.” 

And while this degree of humbleness is admirable, Pasterski explores some of the most complex and challenging issues in physics, just as Einstein did early in his career. It’s hard not to draw the parallel.

Shifting our understanding of the universe

Pasterski’s papers have been cited by Stephen Hawking, Andrew Strominger, and beyond. Her work seamlessly delves into topics that most people cannot even begin to wrap their heads around: spacetime and black holes, explanations of gravity in the context of quantum mechanics, Low’s subleading soft theorem as a symmetry of QED (yes, we’re still speaking English).

Discoveries in this arena are so significant as to shift our entire understanding of how the universe works.

Pasterki’s website, PhysicsGirl.com, is the home of her flawless resume, achievements, publications, and proficiencies, which have caught the attention of some of the most brilliant individuals at NASA. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos already offered her a job.

So, what is she up to today?

Pasterki still hasn’t taken Bezos up on his offer. She wrapped up her PhD at Harvard and this year moved on to the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science to continue her research.

She’s diligently studying her craft, giving outreach talks from Princeton’s campus, and according to her resume, enacting her skill of “spotting the elegance within the chaos.”

Inc. reports that Pasterski has been granted thousands of dollars to support her work, including a $250,000 fellowship with the Hertz Foundation and a $150,000 fellowship with The National Science Foundation, both extending through 2020.

“I don’t know exactly what problem I will or will not end up solving, or what exactly I’ll end up working on in a couple of years,” she explains in the video below. “The fun thing about physics is that you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do. And normally things just change very quickly — kind of irreversibly — if they’re really right.”

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