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  • Writer's pictureKelly Adams

Learning While Teaching

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Business woman teaching another person in front of a whiteboard.

I love teaching people, it's something I've always enjoyed. When I was in elementary school I did kickboxing and karate. I started around age 7 and went through the ranks and became an assistant instructor, at age 10. I would help the instructor teach other kids different martial arts techniques such as how to throw a punch or do a roundhouse kick. I loved it, I enjoyed the feeling of teaching and seeing others improve their skills. I still enjoy teaching my friends about subjects that interest me like productivity and habit building.

When I taught others I noticed something, after teaching them I felt like I had a better understanding of the material. When I tutored my friend in geometry during high school, I felt like I had a better mastery of the concepts. Because I had to have a solid understanding of what I was teaching in order to explain it to her. I couldn't quite put into words what I was noticing, this "learning while teaching", later I realized there's a term for this: The Feynman Technique.

What is the Feynman Technique? It's teaching someone else a concept using simple terms and during the process you're actually learning yourself. Or to put it simply: to teach while you learn. It is named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. He was renowned for being able to teach others complex physics concepts, and even wrote several books on Physics. One of the key ideas behind his technique is to explain the concept in simple terms. By doing this you can see where you have a good understanding and where are your weak points, because it will be the areas where you get stuck coming up with a simple explanation or end up using complex language.

If you want to understand something well, try to explain it simply.

In his article, How to Use the Feynman Technique to Learn Faster Thomas Frank, gives a simpler method that involves a sheet of paper.

  1. Grab a sheet of paper and write the name of the concept at the top.

  2. Explain the concept in your own words as if you were teaching it to someone else. Use plain, simple language, and challenge yourself to work through an example or two.

  3. Review your explanation and identify the areas where you didn't know something, or where you felt like you explanation was shaky. Then go back to the source material in order to obtain a better understanding.

  4. If there's any part in your explanation where you used a lot of technique terms or complex language, try to re-write these sections in simpler terms. Make it understood by even a child.

Personally, when I teach others I don't formally go through the Feynman technique but actively teaching them forces me to understand the gaps in my knowledge and synthesize what I know. The information you learn is better understood when you can apply it to a wide variety of situations rather than just a narrow condition. This deep understanding is not the same as memorization which is what we are typically taught in school. We memorize what we need to so we can pass the test and then lose it afterwards.

We want to be able to apply our knowledge to a multitude of scenarios. Which is similar to the idea of "range", I wrote about this in my article, Building Range. The goal of the Feynman Technique is to have a deep enough understanding of the concept so we can implement the idea in numerous situations, which can help us solve problems in the future.

Even if you don't have anyone to teach you can use a piece of paper and follow the technique above. I encourage you to try this today with a concept you want a higher understanding of.

See you next week!


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