Sometimes–or maybe often–learning doesn’t lead to knowing. In some instances, we learn in a shallow sense, unable to connect new ideas with previous ones and thus likely to lose the lesson entirely. Other times, we learn the words and can even regurgitate them, undigested as it were, but hae no insight into what those words even mean.
So, clearly, a vast chasm separates learning and really learning, which impacts anyone who actually needs to understand and recall what he or she learns. Is there a simple way to really learn what we need? Well, if you’re looking for someone to offer a simple answer to a complex question, ask a physicist. One particular physicist, Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, modeled a method of inquiry and exploration that isolates easy steps to learning even difficult concepts. What is now called the Feynman Technique sounds quite elementary on its face:
1. CHOOSE A CONCEPT
2. EXPLAIN IT AS SIMPLY AS POSSIBLE
3. WHEN STUCK, RELEARN
4. REVIEW AND SIMPLIFY MORE
The magic of the innovative mental model lies in its second step. Research supports the idea that teaching to others solidifies learning. Any attempt to explain a new concept as if we were teaching it, even if nobody else is around, forces is to confront any points we don’t fully understand. Furthermore, making an effort to explain the concept clearly and concisely makes it impossible to hide behind jargon and technical babble, which are serious impediments to true understanding.
Thus, the Feynman Technique encourages us to explore a concept until we clearly understand its most basic aspects. Relearning, reviewing, and simplifying in order to simply explain an idea assures that we really get it. After all, as Einstein quipped, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Use this technique to ensure that you really do understand what you learn!