Learn by teaching with Feynman

Published 5 August 2022

When I built the first version of Traverse, I was just working on it alone for months. When I finally shared it, it was almost unusably complicated. I had neglected a critical ingredient of product development: feedback from others.


And learning is no different. Learning requires rewiring your brain, and your brain needs feedback loops to detect failure and make improvements.


Richard Feynman knew the power of feedback loops like no other. He’s the physicist that won the Nobel prize for, among other things, creating Feynman diagrams which were a very intuitive way of visualizing particle interactions.


Feynman said: if you can’t explain something to a 9-year old, you haven’t fully understood it. The 9-year old gives you critical feedback on your understanding. This is the basis of the Feynman method.


What

Feynman method (also: learning by teaching): improving your learning and understanding by teaching it, either to yourself or to someone else.


Why

Teaching, especially to someone who knows nothing about the subject, forces you to look critically at every word. Are you using jargon to hide that you don’t really know a concept? Are there gaps in your understanding?


And once you teach, your students can shoot holes in your explanations, which provides feedback as to where you need to drill down and improve.


How

With your phone

After studying a subject, record yourself with your phone as you are explaining it (like in a short YouTube video). Feel free to use images and diagrams if that helps the explanation.


Once recorded, you can either:

  1. Look at it yourself the next day. You will probably find some things aren’t as clear as you thought they were when you recorded it.

  2. Send it to a friend (ideally someone who doesn’t know the subject), and ask them what they did and didn’t understand.

  3. Publish it on social media (only if you have the courage!). Views, up- and downvotes, and most importantly comments will help you identify which parts were clear, and which ones weren’t.



In Traverse

Once you have created your map, and filled in all the pages with notes, you can use the Publish button to get a sharing link. Share with a friend to get their feedback.


Use the feedback to go back to your map and fill the knowledge gaps. Once your friend is happy, it might be valuable for others too! You can share the link in our Reddit community to help those who come after you. A shared map is like a window into someone's mind.


Here is a template for using the Feynman technique in Traverse.


Example

Raleigh created a map of the Carb Metabolism, created a video about it and shared it to get feedback. Once he felt it was ready, he posted it in the community for others’ benefit.


Next up: Putting it all together.


Avatar of Author

Dominic Zijlstra

6x polyglot, ex-spacecraft engineer, and founder of Traverse.link

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