Understanding is the foundation to learning well, memorising effectively, and forming new connections between information. The idea behind this technique is that if you truly understand an abstract, complex topic well enough, you’ll be able to explain it in a simple way to someone with no previous knowledge, like a child. This method focuses on teaching others (or pretending to) by breaking topics down into easy to understand explanations.
The Great Explainer
Richard Feynman was a Nobel-prize winning physicist, author, and philosopher who pioneered the field of quantum electrodynamics. He was also a brilliant teacher known as ‘the great explainer’. Feynman believed he was an “ordinary person who studied hard” by understanding, simplifying, and explaining topics. His process of understanding complex subject matter is the foundation of the Feynman technique. He emphasised that the ability to turn complex topics into easy to understand explanations was a reflection of true understanding.
The Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique is ideal for improving your understanding of a new topic, deepening your understanding of current knowledge, and testing your knowledge before exams. It’s easy for anyone to fall into the trap of thinking you understand a topic. This technique encourages you to challenge that assumption by teaching someone without the prior background knowledge. It’s an efficient first step for reviewing learning material that will improve your understanding and help you to form new insights. Below, we’ll share the 4-step process for implementing the Feynman technique and how Jamworks can support you with this learning method.
The 4-Steps to Understanding Anything with the Feynman Technique
Identify a Topic
This might sound like a simple and obvious first step. However, it’s an important starting point for using the Feynman technique effectively. First, whatever topic you choose, it should ideally be something you understand already. Pick a topic that you think you could teach to someone else. It’s okay if there’s some details that need learning, as long as you have a general idea to get you started. You can take your time to learn the topic using different resources or by seeking help from a friend or tutor.
Your topic should also be something specific. It’s easier to work with a smaller topic because you can narrow down what you need to know or teach. This will allow you to work through the Feynman technique more efficiently. The Feyman technique works best for big ideas that are abstract and complex, rather than ideas that are more observational or factual. To make the best out of the technique, aim to challenge yourself using the topics you know you would struggle to teach!
Teach the Topic
Write your chosen topic at the top of a blank page and image you’re teaching it to someone else. Like a teacher, you can write and speak at the same time. You can use examples and diagrams to get creative during your teaching exercise. Try to explain the topic in a simple way and focus on the basic framework of the idea, rather than the details. You can fill those in later! As you teach the topic, note where you struggle to explain things or pinpoint where your explanations still feel too complex.
A good way to tackle this exercise is to imagine you’re teaching a small child. This gives you an idea of how simple to make your explanations because a child won’t have the same prior knowledge that you have. Children also like to ask ‘why?’ when you tell them things. Would you be able to explain the why behind a concept? Intuitively, you might know why because you have the prior knowledge, but can you articulate this to someone who doesn’t?
Alternatively, have a go at really teaching someone! You could do this with a friend, family member, or make it a regular thing with a study group. This is ideal if you find it hard to give yourself feedback and understand if you’ve simplified enough. A real person can provide external feedback and give you the insight you need to identify the gaps in your knowledge.
Fill in Knowledge Gaps
While teaching, you’ll pick up on gaps in your knowledge. This might be something you found hard to explain or could only explain using complex technical words. You can use this information to return to your learning material and focus on filling in the gaps. This saves you time by giving you a specific area to focus on, rather than attempting to learn the whole topic. Oftentimes, we can mix up information we understand and information that we’ve memorised. The Feynman technique allows you to be honest with yourself by separating what you understand from what you’ve memorised. You’ll be better able to refine your understanding by targeting the small details one at a time. From here, you can repeat the teaching process, and keep filling in the gaps until you feel confident.
Finally, you’ll have had a good amount of practice at teaching the topic. You can now focus on ensuring your explanations are super simple. You might still have some technical terms in your explanations or they might be a little lengthy. But, with your developed understanding, it should now be easier to simplify those explanations by removing complex terminology and using analogies. You can later consolidate this information by putting your simplified explanations onto revision flashcards, and use these to test yourself at a later date so you don’t forget.
Why the Feynman Technique Works
Active Form of Learning
Unlike other study methods, teaching is an active form of learning. To teach something and have others understand, you need to understand it yourself first. It’s easy to feel confident when re-reading notes and recognising information, however, you might later realise, you don’t truly understand the topic. The Feynman technique challenges you by actively engaging you with the topic. It encourages you to look at the topic in a new way and take a step away from relying on those technical terms you’ve committed to memory.
Creates a Feedback Loop
Learning is an iterative process and the Feynman technique acknowledges that. It’s rare that we can learn something once. True learning is a process and involves building a well-developed understanding overtime by revisiting the subject. By teaching others, you naturally get feedback that informs your learning process and allows you to intentionally revisit the material. This feedback is specific to your current understanding and can improve your confidence as you continue to learn. Instead of feeling lost, you’ll have a simple action plan and know what to tackle next.
Aids Memorisation and Long-Term Learning
The repetitive structure of the Feynman technique is perfect for memorising information. The process of teaching others from memory and filling in your knowledge gaps naturally engages you in active recall – a study method for memorising information. By doing this repeatedly, you will develop a strong understanding that will support long-term learning of your subject because you’ll be able to connect new and old information.
Tailored to You
The reason the Feynman technique works so well for almost any subject is because it puts you, the learner, at the centre of the learning process. Your explanations are tailored to how you understand the topic. Using your own words, you have developed your understanding of the material. This means your knowledge will be more flexible. You’ll be better able to rework this information to connect new information which is important for learning and memorisation. It’s also essential for demonstrating critical thinking in assignments and exams.
How to Use Jamworks to Implement the Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique is most effective when you have a good understanding of your learning material. Your lectures are the perfect starting place for developing that understanding. However, when faced with lengthy information packed lectures, it can be hard to stay focused and take good notes. Jamworks is the ideal solution for distraction-free note-taking that is quick, easy, and effective. This personal productivity learning tool provides assistive note-taking, live captioning, and transcription for in-person and online meetings, lectures, and seminars.
Jamworks’ features include 1-button highlighting during lectures to break material into subtopics. This allows you to stay focused while still capturing information. You can write-up personal notes for each highlight and attach relevant files to stay organised. If you lose focus or wish you’d started highlighting a subtopic earlier, don’t worry. You can use the track-back feature to start a highlight from moments before. Or, leave yourself a flag so you remember to come back to the information later. Highlights make it easier to identify specific topics to target when using the Feynman technique.
Using the power of transcription and artificial intelligence (AI), Jamworks makes reviewing your learning material simple. This is perfect for when you need to fill in the knowledge gaps that pop up during the teaching stage of the Feynman technique.
Your highlights can be reviewed as an audio note, word-for-word transcript snippet, or an AI-powered summary note. You’ll no longer need to search through your notes or lecture recordings to review a topic.
If you want to further consolidate your knowledge and mix up your study methods alongside the Feynman technique, Jamworks also turns highlights into Flashcard quizzes for you. You can improve your understanding and memorisation with questions and answers directly from your own learning material.