Learning from the Feynman Technique

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Richard Feynman(1918-1988), an author, graphic novel hero, intellectual, philosopher, physicist, and No Ordinary Genius is considered to be one of the most important physicists of all time.

  • He pioneered an entire field: quantum electrodynamics ( QED )
  • In the 1940s, his invention of the Feynman Diagram helped bring much-needed visual clarification to the enigmatic behaviour of subatomic particles
  • His work has directly influenced the fields of nanotechnology, quantum computing , and particle physics

In addition to his ground-breaking research, Feynman was brilliant, eloquent, and an exquisitely passionate thinker.
Bill Gates was so inspired by his pedagogy that he called Feynman, "the greatest teacher I never had."

Feynman's lectures, many of which were delivered during his time at California Institute of Technology, were aimed at students who had no previous knowledge of particle physics or deep science. Taking the mystery out of complex scientific principles was Feynman's forte. His lectures were underscored by a conviction and passion for science.

The unpredictable movements of atomic particles later defined his life's work. When he wasn't in the throes of researching particle physics, he spent time dabbling in the arts, sketching and playing the bongo!


The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique is a method of learning that unleashes your potential and forces you to develop a deep understanding.
Have you ever had a co-worker or teacher explain something with language that was difficult to understand?

The Feynman Technique for teaching and communication is a mental model (a breakdown of his personal thought process) to convey information using concise thoughts and simple language. This technique is derived from Feynman's studying methods. Feynman understood the difference between understanding something and knowing the name of something. He was never content with just knowing the name of something rather he wanted to understand it at a deeper level.

Feynman started to record and connect the things he did know with those he did not. In the end, Feynman had a comprehensive notebook of subjects that had been disassembled, translated, and recorded.

He tried to find the essential kernels of each subjects

You can use this model to quickly learn new concepts, shore up knowledge gaps you have (targeted learning), recall ideas you don't want to forget, or to study more efficiently.

Taking the concept further

Feynman's technique is also useful to those who find writing a challenge. "In order to talk to each other, we have to have words, and that's all right. It's a good idea to try to see the difference, and it's a good idea to know when we are teaching the tools of science, such as words, and when we are teaching science itself." Feynman

Feynman's cartoonish diagrams of highly scientific principles, for example, he could tap into ideas with shapes, squiggly lines, and drawings. It eliminated away clunky language and allowed the power of verbal storytelling to take root as you can imagine explaining the essentials of particle physics is a extremely difficult subject in itself.

Feynman's illustrations and visual equations rather than verbal explanations at the time (the squiggly lines, diagrams, arrows, and the cartoonish figures)
are now part-package of visual storytelling that students, scientists, and readers will see when they learn about this field of science.

There are four key steps to the Feynman Technique:

1.Choose a concept you want to learn about
2.Explain it to a 12 year old
3.Reflect, Refine, and Simplify
4.Organize and Review

Essentially, the Feynman Technique is this:

1.Identify the subject

Write down everything you know about the topic. Each time you run into new sources of information, add them to the notes

Take out a blank sheet of paper. Write out everything you know about the subject you want to understand as if you were teaching it to a child.
As you learn more about the topic, add it to your notes. Trick* People find it helpful to use a different colour so you can see your learning growth/progress
Get organized!

2.Teach it to a child

Now that you think you understand a topic reasonably well, explain it to a 12-year-old. If you can explain a concept to a child, you're way ahead of the game.

Start with a blank note and write the topic or subject you want to teach. Then, below that topic, write everything you know about it.

The trick is to write plainly and simply - so that a child can understand what your talking about
Use your sheet, sheets/notebook as a reference

Children don't understand jargon or a lexicon of dense vocabulary so speaking in plain terms is a must
* When we speak without jargon, it frees us from hiding behind knowledge we don't have. Big words and fluffy "business talk" cripples us from getting to the point, getting a point across and/or passing knowledge to others

"Anyone can make a subject complicated but only someone who understands can make it simple."

Now this part goes without saying or bringing a 12 year old into the equation but when forced to write out an idea from start to finish in simple language, you actually discover where you struggle, where you get frustrated and where you don't really understand as well as you thought. Only by identifying gaps in your knowledge can you fill them.

3. Identify your knowledge gaps

This is the point where the real learning happens.
Highlighting subject, sub-subjects and other inter-linked gaps will help you collect and organize your notes into more cohesive structured _______

Now you can call upon your source material (lecture notes, ideas, etc.) when you run into questions about how much you do know about your topic you can go back to the source material and review the parts you don't quite understand yet.

Reflect, Refine and Simplify

If you don't know something, hit the books. Go back to the source material and draw upon the information that will help you fill the cracks.

Repeat until you have a simple explanation.

Simple is beautiful :)

4. Organize and Review

Piece together your notes using concise explanations. Bring the most vital pieces about the topic together.
To test your understanding in the real world, run it by someone else. What questions did they ask? What parts did they get confused about?

Making things stick forever

As Feynman illustrates in his mental model, learning can be a lifelong pursuit. This technique is designed to help you study for exams and learn new subjects, but it can be easily adapted to pursue deep work.
Dedicating a notebook to a place where your knowledge can grow, evolve your ideas and provide inspiration to continue following a path of ongoing learning critical to the fundamentals of deeper, meaningful work.

The Feynman Technique is the foundation of our 'blank sheet' approach to supercharging your reading and retention.

The next time you stare at an empty notebook page, think about turning that page into an opportunity.

Armed with the Feynman technique anything is possible.



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