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space repetitionUnlike computer memory which is increasing with time, human memory takes the opposite route. In simple words – we forget. Our ability to retain what we learn is a downward graph not only with age, but also with time that’s counted in days.

Consider the fact that it takes us so long to go up the learning curve, but only a few days to go down. As any A-grader student will tell you, there’s no magic memory pill but only repeating what you learn and practicing it at regular intervals.

Spaced repetition is a method that can help you plateau out the downward curve of your forgetfulness and help you memorize large amounts of data. It is an accelerated learning technique. This article is about improving your learning with two digital tools and the method of spaced repetition.

What Is Spaced Repetition?

Quite simply we forget what we learn if we don’t revise or repeat it. Memory research has shown that is more effective if we space out our revisions over a few days instead of cramming everything in one sitting. Cramming works in the short term, but it evaporates just as quickly. Our ability to recall something decays with time. This was captured in a graph famously called (you guessed it) – The Forgetting Curve.

space repetition

Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered this. He also postulated the spacing effect. As we mention before, memory research has found out (and you also might know this from experience), that smart learning involves spacing out your revisions rather than doing it in one session before an exam. Also, the time between each revision session should gradually increase for hardcoding the study material into your brain.

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As soon as schedules and tracking time periods comes into the picture, it’s clear that we need to fall back on a computer program (or a web application) to do the job of spaced repetitions for us. Here are two you can consider for anything from learning a new language to mastering a new subject.

There are two free software that are cited for spaced repetition based learning – Mnemosyne and Anki. Anki has been covered in an earlier review Learn A New Language With Anki's Flash Card System Learn A New Language With Anki's Flash Card System Read More that’s 3 years old but still relevant. Let’s study Mnemosyne. Alternatively, let’s also look at a web application.

Improve Your Recall with Mnemosyne

Mnemosyne is a free flash card generator which uses an advanced algorithm to schedule the best time for a card to come up for review. The flash cards with content that you find difficult to recall will come up more often, while Mnemosyne will display what you remember well less frequently. Mnemosyne (named after the Greek goddess of memory) uses the method of spaced repetition to firm up your memory against the content that you tend to forget easily.

spaced repetition learning

Mnemosyne (as you can read from the screen above) uses “grades” to rate your recall. A flash card which you grade as “2” signifies that you would be able to recall it at a later date. A “0” or “1” would mean that you don’t remember the content in the flash card at all. So, the software will keep on asking you the question after smaller intervals till you get it right.

Let’s say that you want to learn a foreign language. The initial setup will involve some work as you have to insert the content that you are studying manually and create the flash cards.

spaced repetition learning

But it’s worth it because everything that you do from now on is only helping you memorize the material. I won’t go into the details of making flash cards as it is adequately explained in the documentation on the site.

A typical flash card will look like this:

spaced repetition learning

Depending on the answer, you can grade yourself between 1 to 5. Mnemosyne uses the grades to measure your recall and schedule the flash cards.

Mnemosyne can be used to make flash cards with some text, images, and even sounds (the last is important for language studies).

spaced repetition learning technique

Three sided cards are also supported – for instance while learning a new language, one often needs to recall the word, the meaning, and its pronunciation – hence, three sided cards for the three difference aspects.

The algorithm takes place in the backend and you cannot change it. Though, you can view some basic statistical info by clicking on Deck – Show Statistics.

Mnemosyne is very simple to use after you have taken some pains to setup the flash cards. The free repetition and recall software is cross-platform and is available in several languages. Mnemosyne (v1.2.2) is a 6.2 MB download.

Go Online With MemoTutor

My first choice would be FlashCardDB but we have briefly covered it here, so I thought I will take a look at a simpler web application that uses the concept of spaced repetition.

MemoTutor is simple from the word go. Just after the log-in, you can create your first card set. Adding cards is deceptively simple on the user-friendly interface. You can insert image links and format text.

spaced repetition learning technique

When you are reviewing a card, you can choose how well (or not) you remembered the question and grade yourself with one of the six choices.  Following the best principles of spaced repetition, MemoTutor schedules the next review of a particular card, taking into account how well you recall the information.

spaced repetition learning technique

Cards can be reviewed only after an hour you create them. This is a part of the repetition process that maintains the efficiency of the whole system. In the end, you can view a pie-chart which is a picture on your performance.

space repetition

Flash card web applications are there in numbers. Perhaps, people are using them effectively more than you and I realize. Maybe, some of our previous posts can help you here:

Do you wish you knew about spaced repetition sooner? Maybe, the next time you begin to climb up the learning curve, you can use it to make your journey more memorable.

Image Credit: Remember Yellow Note via Shutterstock, Wikipedia

  1. Arcticdaddy
    January 25, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Actually, there is an abundance of research demonstrating that spaced-or interleaved repetition after the acquisition phase (in which we assume that the knowledge is integrated-or contextualized) is the most effective way to semi-permanence. Even then, the knowledge has a half-life. But it is much longer

    • Saikat Basu
      January 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      True. It is more than memorization. A mix of interleaved (mix of topics) and spaced (in time) practice also improves context-switching skills. The neurons in the brain make new connections and store patterns -- a vital recipe for problem solving skills.

  2. Howard
    June 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    It should be acknowledged that the two so-called innovations in memory development - spaced-repetition and confidence-based learning have been around for quite some time and yet... neither has delivered sufficient deltas in outcomes to catch hold in the learning communities.

    Arguably, this is due to the at-best incremental benefit of such methodologies and their negative impact on a key driver of brain modification which is quantity of repetitions. Employment of spaced-repetition and confidence-based learning each dramatically decrease the possible rate of repetition and therefore their benefits are dampened to levels that are uninspiring.

    So... does an innovative method exist that delivers more than incremental increase in memory development and if so, when will we see it pass the test of learning community adoption?

    Stay tuned ; )

    • Saikat Basu
      June 11, 2012 at 6:35 am

      Spaced repetition and graded spaced repetition has seen some focused research in the last few years. Especially when it comes to language studies. I believe empirical data does exist that places it above 'cramming' as is followed by most students.

      • Howard
        June 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm

        The weight of empirical data should be kept in relation to its relevance to real world context. When it comes to "making use of" ; ) information, what truly matters is not what happens in the laboratory but what is "ecologically viable" in the "wilds" of the formal and informal learning communities.

        In the wild, Spacing is easily trumped by the proximity effect associated with cramming and learners know that. Confidence-based learning (you say "graded practice") is intrinsically slower paced and so, is easily trumped by the frequency effect associated with faster-paced cramming. Again, learners know this.

        Lastly, I'll note that in formal learning communities, emphasis is consistently weighted towards performing not next year, but in performing in the near-future, e.g.; the mid-term test tomorrow morning. Learners act accordingly with learning strategies optimized for that context.

        So... Let's collectively advocate for employing strategies and tools that work in the wild...

        • Saikat Basu
          June 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

          It seems you are speaking from experience. Now, I am really interested to know your background, because your perspective has been very enlightening. Thanks for taking the pain to give me this feedback :)

  3. mllocs
    May 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for mention us. Very complete article!

    Memotutor now is called Recallio and has some new features (http://recallio.com).

    • Saikat Basu
      May 14, 2012 at 4:24 am

      Thanks for the update. That's quite a turnaround when it comes to branding :)

  4. Hari
    April 5, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Any good apps for tablets?

    • Saikat Basu
      April 8, 2012 at 5:43 am

      There are quite a few for Android and iPads. There's the AnkiDroid flashcards for Android. Cramberry (http://cramberry.net/) has a free app for iPads. I think the free version is limited to 30 flash cards, the last time I checked. "Spaced Repetition" is a keyword...you can do a search to find a suitable one for yourself.

  5. Humza Aamir
    April 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Amazing...

  6. Ashley
    April 4, 2012 at 2:14 am

    It’s really a nice and useful piece of information. I am glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Try gFlashcards for iPhone/iPad, Mac if you like to use spaced repetitions.

    • Saikat
      April 4, 2012 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for all your inputs. Have any of you tried it for a consistently long time and got results?

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