Learn Faster with the Feynman Technique

Learn how to learn! This proven method will help you quickly master any skill in just 4 steps

Creativity 4 min read Sep 25, 2019

Have you ever found yourself starting to answer a question about a familiar topic, only to stop in mid-sentence because you can’t seem to find the words? Perhaps you clammed up because, as things go sometimes, you weren’t so sure you knew what you were talking about in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We’ve been asked by a prospective employer to “describe in a few words your last job” or accosted by a precocious child with the dreaded question, “where do babies come from”? We’ve all known the agony of being so dumbstruck that all we can do is smile (or grimace) and wish the ground would just crack open and swallow us whole. That’s when we realise that nobody can get by on small talk all the time; sometimes, we truly need to know our sh*t and prove it to the world.

And by prove, we really mean TEACH.

George Bernard Shaw in “Maxims for Revolutionists” wrote,

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

But if you’ve heard of Richard Feynman, the brilliant American physicist, and his eponymous technique, you’d know that this is one of the few times that the Irish playwright got it wrong. (Well, of course, it was maybe just Shaw letting slip his dislike for organised training.)

Feynman came up with this special method for learning, which he believed will help anyone—and we mean anyone—learn anything. He developed it, as he noticed certain problems in the way science was being taught in schools—students having to memorise information by rote, without any critical thinking or context, for example.

Take heart! Expert You may be just four simple steps away.

Step 1: Identify the topic or subject you want to understand.

Write the topic down in a notebook. Do it prominently, at the top of the page. In big letters.

Step 2: Put together what you know, then teach a child.

Think about everything you know about the subject, then write these down in concise language. Use short and simple words, as if you are talking to a child or a person who has zero background on the subject.

A colleague used to test any changes he makes on their company website on his 80-something grandmother. “If nana can navigate the page, we are good to go,” he used to say.

Step 3: Work out what you don’t know, then dig deeper.

Depending on how Step 2 goes, you will begin to see the areas you know well enough and where you need to find out more. Identify gaps in your understanding of the subject, then go back to the books. Or to that documentary. Or to the YouTube tutorial. Find the missing parts.

Step 4: Put together old and new knowledge, then tell a story.

Toss in your fresh knowledge with the information you listed down in your notebook (Step 2). Now, try telling the child (or your grandmother) again about the subject—still using simple language, as if you are telling the story of how you would map all six Infinity Stones on the space-time continuum. You should find it easier this time. (Oh, relax. That hardly counts as a spoiler.)

If you note more gaps in what you know, go back to Step 3.

The Feynman Technique may have been developed by a Nobel Prize winner and certified genius, but it is not just for scientists; it is for everyone to take advantage of on their own road to lifelong learning. So much to learn, so little time!

What’s next on your to-learn list?