The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”
— B.B. King
There are many teachers in the world. Sometimes we even recognize them as teachers.
Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman developed a system for learning now known as the Feynman Technique. For more information see:
Feynman believed that memorization is a short-term tool, helpful for time-limited goals like passing a test, but not likely to be useful later on. He believed that understanding takes a different approach. For him, the key was simplicity. His technique has four steps:
- 1. Choose and study a topic until you feel you understand it.
- 2. Explain the topic to a child. If no child is handy, find a person not acquainted with the idea and explain it to them. Use your words, not the jargon you have read. Don’t quote. No footnotes are allowed (for use aloud.) Take simple ideas. Tell them in sequence. This is a great way to find the gaps in your knowledge.
- 3. When you get stuck in your explanation, it’s time to return to your study of the topic for more focused attention on whatever you’ve learned that you have not yet learned. Explain it to yourself without using terms from the text. If you don’t quite have your own vocabulary, you have not quite got it.
- 4. Organize, review and explain again. When you can give a simple, natural-sounding explanation, you know the topic in a way that will stay with you for a long time. Go back to steps two and three as many times as you need.
Sometimes we can learn from people not generally thought of as teachers.
Hasidic rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, wrote:
From a child you can learn
1) always to be happy
2) never to sit idle
3) to cry for everything you want
From a thief you can learn
1) to work at night
2) that if you cannot gain what you want in one night, try again the next night
3) to love your co-workers just as thieves love each other
4) to be willing to risk your life even for a little thing
5) not to attach too much value to things even though you have risked your life for them — just as a thief will resell a stolen article for a fraction of its real value
6) to withstand all kinds of beatings and tortures but to remain what you are
7) to believe that your work is worthwhile and not be willing to change it
A friend of mine once started a conversation with, “You know what Einstein’s famous equation E=MC squared means, right?” Oddly perhaps, I don’t remember the content of that discussion.
Interesting, as always, Warren!
Love the idea that we can learn from everyone. It's something I tried to teach my students.
Interesting concept, Warren. I didn't realize I was using some of it when I was attending college as an adult. When I was studying a course on ecology, I used to describe to my husband what I had just learned. I realized by telling him all about it, I was cementing it in my mind. It really helped. It reminds me of when I was trying to help my daughter understand specific points in her economics course. I would put it into terms she could understand. "If you could buy a Coach purse for...."
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