The Feynman Technique

Have you heard of the Feynman Technique? If you want to learn something – really learn something – the 4 steps proposed by Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize winning physicist, can help. The 4 basics steps of the Feynman Technique are shown below but in a nutshell, they are: 1) Pick a concept and write it out as if you were explaining it to a child (no big, hairy technical words or jargon); 2) identify areas where you had trouble explaining the concept. This is where there are gaps in your knowledge. Go back and find the information you need and study it so that you can now explain that information to an 8 year old; 3) organize your notes and organize them into a story that is again, simple and easy to understand. If there are still confusing parts, go back and rewrite your summary story; 4) Tell someone else about it. A good way to see if you really understand something is to try to explain it to someone else.  (We can use this last step in safety training – more on that in tomorrow’s post).  Take a look at the infographic below which summarizes a description of the Feynman technique that was originally posted on the Farnham Street blog.  What do you want to learn next? Can you try the Feynman Technique and see if it works?

feynman infographic.png

Chunk-It

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One way athletes are often taught to learn a new skill is by breaking it down into small chunks and then perfecting each of these steps.  In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes “Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and … combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.”

Chunking is one way to help trainees to remember more. (See my earlier post on “Reducing” for more). If you are training a class how to do something, think about how you could break down (chunk) each part of the act and focus on each step separately. Let’s take an easy example – how to use a fire extinguisher (from OSHA’s website)

The first step shown is to select the appropriate screenshot_513.png

To chunk down this instruction, you could concentrate on the 4 steps listed as separate training “chunks.”

Pull the Pin – Can you set up a situation where trainees get to actually break the tamper seal and pull the pin? Is there anything else you assume they should know – or anything that you believe to be “common sense” but might need special reinforcement?

Aim – Can you do a demonstration that shows what happens when you aim at the base and when you aim elsewhere?  Can the trainees practice? How far away should you stand? What is a realistic situation for a workplace fire in your facility? It most certainly won’t look like the bonfire shown in the OSHA image. Will it be in a trashcan? If so, how do you aim at the base if you can’t see the base? When should a trainee attempt to put the fire out with the extinguisher and  when should they leave the area? (that question gives me an idea for a new training activity  – let me know if you want to see what I come up with). Think how you can break this step down to make the training as specific, realistic and applicable to the trainees’ work environment as possible.

Squeeze  – How hard does the handle need to be squeezed? How long? What if someone doesn’t have great hand strength? Do you need to squeeze fast or slow? Do you fingers go on top or bottom of the handle? What happens with it begins discharging? Is it easier or more difficult to squeeze the handle? What if they are wearing gloves? Is it more difficult? Can you have the trainees practice?

Sweep – How long and how fast do you sweep from side to side? How long will the extinguisher last? How will you know how long it will last before you use it? What should you do if the extinguisher runs out before the fire is out?  If the fire appears out, how long do you need to watch it? Should you throw water on it or do anything else after the fire is gone?

Do you get the idea? Each step in a relatively simple set of instructions can be broken down into a mini-topic. If you can’t see trainees face-to-face on consecutive days or weeks to cover each mini-topic (while referencing what was previous learned) maybe you could send out for emails or text messages with each focusing on one of the steps.

Four simple steps might seem just like four simple steps but as you can see by the random questions each step generated above, there could be a lot of questions zooming around your trainees head. If you don’t talk about actual fire possibilities in your workplace and specific conditions and challenges that might come with those fires, the training information will not stick so with every chunk you are able to create, make sure to integrate the real-world information your trainees need to know.