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4 Steps to Learning Any Topic, According to a Nobel Prize Winner

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When we want to learn about a topic that’s completely new to us, uncertainty may arise about how to do it quickly and effectively. Whether it’s to learn more about a certain subject or put together a presentation, there’s a helpful technique to efficiently learn about any given topic.

5-Minute Crafts will share the Feynman method with you, created by a physicist and Nobel Prize winner named Richard Feynman, that can transform learning into a simple and systematized process.

1. Pick a subject and write it down.

Write the name of the chosen concept or theme (like Greek mythology) at the top of a sheet of paper.
If the subject is still a bit unfamiliar to you, proceed to study it in the way you usually would. If, on the other hand, you already know something about it, write everything you know as a “brainstorming” session or in short sentences (no need to delve into them).

2. Explain the subject.

Write an explanation of the subject on this page. Try to use simple language, as if you were making a short presentation in front of a class: no reason to beat around the bush. Imagine an invisible student listening carefully to you.

This process will help you highlight what you do and don’t understand. Because if you only read information, you can come to believe that you have memorized all of it; but it’s only when you try to explain it that you discover where your knowledge is insufficient.

3. Go back to what you don’t understand.

If you detected gaps in your knowledge, such as facts you missed or processes you couldn’t explain, it’s time to actually learn. Go back to your sources and review the data that wasn’t clear to you the first time.

The purpose of this step is to repeat things as much as possible. Imagine a hole that you must fill with information. By doing a second and third check, you’ll make that hole smaller and eventually cover it.

4. Re-write and simplify.

Review your notes and read them out loud. If the explanation is not straightforward and demands time to clarify, you’re probably not understanding something. Try to make analogies, as you would if you had to explain it to a child. This will not only make you understand it better but dominate the subject as well. Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Think of a little boy asking “why” about everything. We can’t just explain something to him with facts and expect the boy to accept it just because. By assuming that the information must be clear enough to be understood by a child, you will realize the subtle difference between knowing and understanding.

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