Jason Prini

Learning not to forget

Summer is when I tend to have the time explore a bit more than usual. This past summer, while researching pedagogical systems (meta-learning is one of my interests), I rediscovered spaced repetition study/software (SRS).

My first exposure to SRS was this Wired article I read years ago. It stuck in my head because it was set in my second-home town of Kołobrzeg, Poland. It popped up from memory when I was first testing Anki, which I was recommend from a programming forum. After only a few days with Anki I was compelled to revisit the article.

I was looking to explain the amazing effects I was experiencing using Anki. There was no doubt it was enhancing my recall memory, using Anki felt like facts were getting almost forcefully embossed on my brain. Anki uses spaced repetition algorithms to monitor your behaviour going through a deck of flash cards, and automatically manages when you should see which cards. It knows when you’re just about to forget a card – one you might have last seen 2 minutes, 2 days, or 2 weeks ago – and shows it to you, so your brain grabs hold of it just as it was diffusing into forget. It’s a profoundly powerful tool for overriding default “garbage collection” brain activity and remembering things much more purposefully.

Most of my non-work screen-time is on my iPhone. Anki has an highly rated iOS app, but I’ve since discovered CleverDeck, and have really been enjoying it. I’m using it for French vocabulary, and after only a week I’m amazed at how much I can instantly recall from memory. Another aspect of SRS is that the number of cards you’re shown per day is limited. You can change this to suit yourself, but the default worlds great for me. After every session I feel like I could keep going, but I don’t, and I think this is important. I think I’m remembering more fiercely because I’m pacing myself and because I’m forced to remember just before I forget. The software does this job for me, and much better than I could, which makes studying a joy.

UPDATE – September 29 2014 – I’ve since added duolingo’s app to my French routine and it complements CleverDeck’s vocabulary building really well. 

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