Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning physicist who made significant contributions in areas such as quantum mechanics and particle physics. He also pioneered quantum computing, introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He was a renowned lecturer who taught at Cornell and Caltech.
Despite all of his accomplishments, Feynman thought of himself as “an ordinary person who studied hard”. He believed that anyone was capable of learning with enough effort, even complex subjects like quantum mechanics and electromagnetic fields: “There’s no miracle people. It just happens they got interested in this thing and they learned all this stuff. There’s just people.”
Throughout his work and life, Feynman provided insights into his process for considering complex concepts in the world of physics and distilling knowledge and ideas with elegance and simplicity. Many of these observations about his learning process have been collected into what we now call “The Feynman Technique”. The Feynman Technique is a learning concept you can use to understand just about anything.
The technique is a four-step process for understanding any topic. This rejects automated recall in favor of true comprehension gained through selection, research, writing, explaining, and refining.
1. Choose a concept to learn. Select a topic you’re interested in learning about and write it at the top of a blank page in a notebook.
2. Teach it to yourself or someone else. Write everything you know about a topic out as if you were explaining it to yourself. Alternately, actually teach it to someone else.
3. Return to the source material if you get stuck. Go back to whatever you’re learning from – a book, lecture notes, podcast – and fill the gaps in your knowledge.
4. Simplify your explanations and create analogies. Streamline your notes and explanation, further clarifying the topic until it seems obvious. Additionally, think of analogies that feel intuitive.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to adopt the mindset of a life-long learner. Learning new skills and information takes time and patience, but also humility. By starting with a blank page, you face what you don’t know head on. From there, you only need a pen, resources, and the willingness to explore to embark on an indefinite learning quest.