Have you noticed that no matter how much you study, after a while you start forgetting some of the things you have learned? When you try to remember, some of the details seem to be missing? There are several things you can do to train you memory and remember things better. One technique is to use repetition, which I explained in How to Learn Faster and Smarter. Another way to improve your memory and remember what you learn is basically by telling others what you have learned. That technique was developed by Richard Feynman.
Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1965. He was a brilliant scientist but also known for his simple and effective learning process. He developed what is now called the Feynman technique. What is the Feynman technique? How can you use it to remember what you learn?
The Technique that Helps You Remember What You Learn
In a nutshell, the Feynman technique is this: Study a topic. Explain the topic to a child in simple language at his level of understanding. Identify which parts you find hard to explain. Study those again until you understand them well enough to simplify them and explain them to others. By explaining to someone else what you are studying you will be able to find the gaps in your understanding and study them again until they are really clear. This technique is great in two ways. It helps you learn and understand new things and by “forcing” yourself to explain it to others you engrave the topic into your memory too.
The Trap of Wanting to Sound Smart
Some educated people like their own intelligence and love to hear themselves talk. They know their stuff and like showing it off. Without knowing it though, that attitude impedes their learning. When you are used to technical vocabulary it is what you use to explain something to yourself while you read and learn. However, knowing technical vocabulary can give you a false impression of understanding. Very often, when those people start talking, their explanations have huge gaps that get covered up with carefully-chosen words. Their audience may feel intimated and avoid asking questions. But the funny thing is that even those educated people are often not aware that they do not fully understand a topic. The gaps only surfance once they simplify it and really try to explain the topic to someone else.
The key of the Feynman Technique for learning, understanding and remembering lies in simple explanation. Getting rid of all the useless difficult technical words and explaining the concept so that a 12-year old can understand it. When you try that, you notice that some of what you say does not make sense or that you’re jumping from one important aspect to another without being able to explain how the transition takes place. Explaining the topic simply and effectively takes time to master. But it is a perfect way to both understand and remember what you learn.
How to Learn and Remember With the Feynman Technique
There are 4 aspects to learning and remembering with the Feynman Technique:
- Noticing incomplete explanations
- Studying again
To start learning, you need to be focused. When reading your study material, do not just skim through. Really get into it and read with the goal to understand and eventually remember what you learn. The best way to do this is not by reading everything and explaining it afterwards. Instead, make it your goal to understand while you are studying. Explain each fact or topic to yourself as you read it. See if you can put it in your own words. By doing that, you simplify the concept along the way and will most likely not have to read it again.
Once you finished a chapter, or the entire book, get pen and paper and write down everything you know about the topic. Use your own words. Simplify the concepts. And remember, once you start explaining the topic it needs to be clear enough for a 12-year old.
Wait. You have no kids? Your kids aren’t 12 years old? Oh, I’m sorry. You might as well stop reading then. Sorry for wasting your time. This only works for parents whose children happen to be 12 years old. Nah, I’m just messing with ya. Kids or not is beside the point. The point is to learn to simplify any topic to the point where a child would understand it. You can explain it to anyone around you who is willing to listen. Just use the technique and try to make sense. That is how you make sure you really understand it yourself. And that is how you make sure you remember what you learn.
3. Noticing Incomplete Explanations
After you have written down your explanation, take a look and notice if everything really makes sense. Are their gaps between different ideas? Or do they flow from one to another with ease? Do all aspects of the topic sound clear and complete? Did you miss any steps?
4. Studying Again
Did you find any gaps in your understanding? No problem. Now you can start to clarify things for yourself. Go back to the material and study again. Pay special attention to parts that you missed before or were unable to explaing to someone else. This will enable you to understand the topic more fully. And it will ensure you remember what you learn.
How it Helps You Remember What You Learn
The biggest benefit of this technique is that it exposes weaknesses in your understanding and explanation. It helps you identify what you need to study again, while you can now skip what you already understood and learned. Your selective focus on what you did not understand before will help you remember the tricky parts you always seem to forget. And that is how it helps you remember what you learn.
If you want to learn smarter and faster and understand and remember complicated topics, the Feynman Technique can really be a game-changer for you. Want to know more about effective learning? Check out how to be effective when learning online and how to learn by asking the right questions.