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 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.
Bonus Fact: Learning new dance moves may help stave off age-related decline
As anyone who has found joy, fun, and camaraderie on the dance floor knows, the act of moving to music can be profoundly satisfying.
Research shows that not only can dancing be fun, it may also reverse signs of aging in the brain.
The study, conducted in Magdeburg, Germany, at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, spilt the participants into two groups: One group took part in a weekly dance course; the other, in weekly endurance and flexibility training.
Over the length of the study, both groups showed increased activity in the hippocampus region of the brain, which plays a crucial role in memory, learning and balance, and can be severely impacted by cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The crucial difference between the groups was that the participants in the dance course also experienced an increase in balance, something not seen in the endurance and flexibility training.
The team attributed the results to a contrast in the structure of the two courses: The endurance and flexibility training consisted largely of repetitive routines such as nordic walking and bike riding, whereas the dance class featured a new dance each week, challenging participants to learn and remember new movements and patterns regularly.