Want to Understand a New Subject? Use the Feynman Technique

Over the past ten years, I've written hundreds of scripts for explainer videos and if there is one thing I've learned, it's this: the act of writing the script and trying to explain an idea for others teaches me more about the subject than anything else I can do. My understanding doesn't become clear until the ideas in my head make the jump to the script, where I'm forced to present them logically.

This process of writing explanations in order to understand them better is also known as the Feynman Technique. Richard Feynman was known as The Great Explainer thanks to his talent for transforming complex scientific information into easy to understand models and ideas. The 1.5-minute video below summarizes the technique.

A recent study, summarized by Christian Jarrett at the BPS Research Digest, provides more evidence of what this why this practice works, based on a study of 124 students:

For a new study in Applied Cognitive Psychology researchers led by Aloysius Wei Lun Koh set out to test their theory that teaching improves the teacher’s learning because it compels the teacher to retrieve what they’ve previously studied. In other words, they believe the learning benefit of teaching is simply another manifestation of the well-known “testing effect” – the way that bringing to mind what we’ve previously studied leads to deeper and longer-lasting acquisition of that information than more time spent passively re-studying.

They found the students who performed best at understanding and remembering a new subject were the ones who learned the subject and then taught it to others.

Why does this matter? Because anyone can use this practice to increase their understanding of a subject. Studying is great. Taking notes is helpful. But if you really want to understand and remember a subject, explain it to someone else. Or, simply pretend that you're writing a letter or video script with the goal of explaining it clearly.