Applying the Feynman Technique

Since we’re meeting the new students for the first time tomorrow I’ve started reminiscing about our first few lectures in vet school. I remember our biochemistry teacher joking about the valley of despair we’d find ourselves in over the Christmas holiday, agonizing over cell biology. I remember the upperclassmen telling us not to worry too much about school, and take part in all the fun events that were to come. And I also remember there being much talk about something the professors had coined “take-home-messages”. While the idea behind the concept was great, I don’t remember us using it all that much.

However, when I stumbled across this Medium article on “The Feynman Technique” a few days ago, I was reminded of what the “take-home-message” was all about, namely synthesizing larger chunks of information into smaller, bite-sized sentences that summarize entire lectures or chapters.

Richard Feynman, the world-renowned and pioneering physicist, was known in his lifetime not only as an amazing scientist and author but also as a populariser of science. He was a formidable pedagogue, able to convey extremely difficult concepts in an interesting and straightforward manner.

If you’re interested in learning more about him, and his technique, I highly recommend giving the aforementioned Medium article a read. Here is my take on the method, and what pitfalls to avoid when applying it. So without further ado, I give you, The Feynman Technique:

 

Collect information:

Suck up information like a dry sponge. Go to lectures and jot down everything, even the things that the professor says in passing, that you’re not quite sure you understand.

 

Simplify – “Teach it to a child”:

What is the simplest way you can explain what you’ve learned during the lecture? When I work on my summaries, I write not only so that I’ll be able to understand, but so that anyone would be able to follow along, even if they’ve never touched one of my textbooks. Sometimes this ends up quite wordy and repetitive, which is where the third part of the Feynman Technique comes into play.

 

Keep it Brief:

In the linked article this isn’t listed as its own subsection, however, I’ve found that after the information collection process there needs to be a substantial curation of what is actually important in order to not get bogged down with notes. What 20 percent of your notes encompasses 80 percent of the most valuable information?

 

Fill the gaps:

Which sections are you struggling to explain in a simple manner? Could it be that you’re missing key elements in your understanding of the concepts? Go back and learn more, and see it from another angle, and use multiple resources to give yourself a more complete image of the subject at hand. This should help you abbreviate your wordy explanations further.

 

Present what you’ve learned:

In a true Feynmanian manner, go explain what you’ve learned to someone. Whether it be your dog, a stuffed animal, your mum or a friend, make sure it’s someone who has little-to-no prior knowledge about the subject, and explain it to them in a captivating, yet “short and sweet” way.

 

Congratulations, you’ve now not only learned something, but taught someone something new and exciting. This is where I’m going to end this blog post, but remember – by sharing knowledge you’ll learn more. This goes not only for learning stuff in class, but in everyday life. If you share something you know with someone, not only will you have helped someone out, but cemented your own knowledge in the process. This is something I adamantly believe in, and is a solidarity I hope the new students we’re meeting tomorrow will live by as well.

Here's a bonus pic of my dog for making it through the entire blog post. Look at this gorgeous girl! She's probably looking for beavers or ducks in this image.

Here's a bonus pic of my dog for making it through the entire blog post. Look at this gorgeous girl! She's probably looking for beavers or ducks in this image.