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Feynman technique: Rediscover the joy of learning

LEARNING IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL TEACHERS

Confused or intimidated at the prospect of learning Data Science or for that matter anything? Here is our attempt to give a direction using Feynman Technique in the age where there is a plethora of knowledge sources, some even contradicting each other.

You may love your job or hate it, but one trait of an inquisitive mind is the zeal to learn. Learning is a continuous and lifelong process, as it should be. We learn a lot each day, on the job, in our personal lives, through our interactions and so on. But the prospect of learning a new skill may seem a bit daunting mid-career, more so for a seasoned employee.

As a data science service provider, we cross paths with a lot of passionate professionals who tackle most of their work challenges gracefully. Yet, a lot of them feel apprehensive or nervous about learning data science, most of their concerns clustering around the field being relatively new and so complex. Learning can be an exciting experience if you define and stay disciplined in your learning path.

The Feynman technique was designed to ease this learning process. Feynman understood the difference between knowing something and understanding something. His technique lays emphasis on understanding rather than knowing.

Before you go deeper into Feynman Technique, let us understand what a learning style is and how to identify what kind of a learner are you. Every mind has a natural inclination on how it prefers to learn. According to Marcia Conner, there are 3 different ways of learning: visual, audio, and tactile/kinesthetic.

MARCIA CONNER’S 3 WAYS OF LEARNING

visula learner

Visual Learner

If your primary learning style is visual, your mind prefers to learn via visuals, so whenever you are learning a new concept, use videos/podcasts, draw pictures in the margins, look at the graphics, visualizations.

Envision the topic or play a movie in your thoughts of how you’ll act out the subject matter if you were in a drama/play.

Auditory Learner

Auditory Learner

If your primary learning style is auditory, you learn mainly from your ears.

So, when you are learning something, read out loud, listen to the words you read.

Try to develop a conversation between you and the text.

Audibles are a great source of learning for you, you can also try text to speech converters to read out information to you.

kinesthetic learner

Kinesthetic Learner

If your primary learning style is tactile/kinesthetic, that means you learn by your hands/body. Think swimming, do you see some are natural swimmers and they learn so fast just by doing it. So, if you are a kinesthetic learner use a pencil or highlighter pen to mark passages that are meaningful to you. Take notes, transferring the information you learn to the margins of the book, into a journal, or onto a handheld computer. Doodle whatever comes to mind as you read. Hold the book in your hands instead of placing it on a table. Walk around as you read. Feel the words and ideas. Get busy—both mentally and physically, use hand gestures to feel the concept if you can.

Here is a downloadable worksheet to assess your preferred learning style. http://marciaconner.com/dl/mclsa013119.pdf

Once you’ve understood your learning style here is a four-step technique from
Feynman to ease up and reinforce your leaning:

Feynman’s learning technique is named after a famous physicist Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He was also a great teacher who is known for explaining abstract and complex topics in simple terms and ideas that are easy to understand and so, to explain. He would explain gravity by talking of angels pushing objects towards planets, simple things like fire with the help of collision of balls. Elon Musk describes ‘The Feynman Technique’ as the physics way of solving business problem.

STEP 1: LEARN TO TEACH IT TO A 12-YEAR-OLD!

Note: People who are at C-level often get irritated about why their employees wouldn’t understand what they’re speaking. It seems so obvious to them, the language they speak, and so are in the illusion that the employees too would understand the language they speak. But we can break this barrier between the hierarchy if we practice Feynman’s First step, i.e., to use language when you’re explaining something new as if you’re speaking to a 12-year-old child.

So your learning should be focused on making a 12 year old understand the concept. Write the concept on the top of the page and use the kind of vocabulary or language which even a 12-year-old could grasp and pay attention to. This way, you’re not only removing all the masks of “know-it-all”, you’re also getting to the deeper roots of a concept and break it down into parts/chunks that would otherwise lead to illusion of knowledge.

Learn to question your understanding like a 12-year-old. If say, you’re learning about 9 planets of the solar system, the first question the kid would ask is ‘Why does our solar system have only 9 planets? Why is that limit?’. Always question yourself and the concepts by asking a simple ‘why’ question instead of taking the facts at face value.

STEP 2: GO BACK AND STUDY AGAIN

Once you’ve completed learning a concept and you’ve broken it down into explainable chunks, you will have to repeat the whole step. This is the step where you revise your source material. After finding out the gaps from the first step, accept that not everything can be learnt at one go. Now, organize those gaps and learn to deepen your understanding of the concept further. The chunks which are hard to understand or retain, I suggest you to leverage on your minds’ craving of completeness. Read the entire concept chunk even if you do not understand it, and then just before going to bed read half of the concept and let your mind sleep with curiosity. Once you are up in the morning recall the key idea of the first half and then read the remaining concept and revise the entire concept. This should help understanding and retaining complex concepts and you will then be able to simplify the same.

STEP 3: BUILD A SIMPLE NARRATIVE

With the understanding you’ve gained of the concept and filling the gaps after Step 2, it’s time to build a simple narrative avoiding all the jargon. Read it out loud and see if the words you’re using this time are simple enough or need a refinement. This step sounds simple, but this is a critical step for your learning. Pay emphasis and ensure you are not able to further simplify the narrative. If the result/explanation seems satisfactory, go the next step.

STEP 4: EXPLAIN IT TO SOMEONE

Find someone (if you can’t, just pretend and start explaining) who isn’t into the subject which you are and explain the concept with all the understanding you’ve gained by going through the previous steps. If you think the explanation should be simpler, go back to step 2 until you are satisfied.

  1. Learning in multiple, spread-out sessions, known as “spaced repetition,” is a far more effective approach.
  2. Reflect & Write out what you know about the subject as if you were teaching it to a child.
  3. Review and go back to the source material and re-learn it until you can explain it in basic terms.
  4. Organize them into a simple story that flows and teach to someone/read out loud. Per the Learning Pyramid, the most effective way for you to learn is by either teaching someone or trying to immediately put what you learned into practice.

That’s how simple Feynman’s approach is. It is a quick and easy method to learn and retain new concepts and information and is arguably one of the best approaches to learning. Here is to summarize the above concept:

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