Explain to understand with Feynman technique

Whenever you are learning something, there is a gap between remembering it and understanding it. You can try to remember the content you are trying to learn and can passably use it in an exam, but that is as far as that will carry you. You will forget it or at least most of it, because our minds are not build to carry around many bits of remembered things. So if you are just hoping to pass an exam or certification for something you are unlikely to need again, memorising the important bits might get you across and pass the test.

However, if you want to really learn something, just remembering it won’t be enough. To be able to retain it and use it, you need to understand it. To understand it, you need to process it, use it and work with it. Here’s where the Feynman technique can help you.

Useful when: you want to deeply understand something and retain that knowledge, content and understanding for a long time like when learning the fundamentals of just about any topic. This technique is also useful as a way to check what you already understand and what still needs to be studied further.

Steps are as follows:

  1. Pick a topic and start studying it
  2. Once you grasp what the content is about, take a piece of paper or your laptop and write about it as if you are teaching it to someone else. You can, and are encouraged to, also speak as you write as a teacher would.
  3. As you write and talk about the topic, you may, and probably will, come across sections where you can’t explain it after all. Here go back to your material and read it further.
  4. Once you can explain all the parts of your learning content without getting stuck, do it over again, but this time simplify your language and speak with your own words. Also use examples, simplify and explain as clearly as you can.
  5. Again, if you run into trouble, your explanations are wordy or you get stuck, go back to the materials and keep studying.
  6. Once you can explain the content in your own words in a simple manner, giving explanations and possibly transferring to different contexts (if applicable), you have understood the material and learned what you set out to learn.

Result: You will understand what you are learning and it will be far easier to use that understanding and apply the knowledge. You will also be able to retain that understanding for a long time.

If you want to see a good video explaining the technique and where it came from, please see the linked video created by Sprouts on Youtube:


The Feynman technique by Sprouts

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