- Introduction to my Workflow Series
- Fundamentals of Effective Time Management
- Open Loops and the 2 Minute Rule
- Remember the Milk
Increase retention and speed up learning
This is the fifth installment of my workflow series. Check out the links above to follow along. I will be posting previous entries at the start of each new entry in the series.
Part of everyone's development is to learn new skills. This is an unavoidable yet time-consuming process. Most people have a relatively low success rate.
While everyone learns differently and has their own study habits, there is one technique that has proven to be extremely effective for all types of learners.
Spaced repetition learning
Spaced repetition is an evidence-based learning technique that is usually performed with flashcards. Newly introduced and more difficult flashcards are shown more frequently while older and less difficult flashcards are shown less frequently in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect. The use of spaced repetition has been shown to increase rate of learning.
Although the principle is useful in many contexts, spaced repetition is commonly applied in contexts in which a learner must acquire many items and retain them indefinitely in memory. It is, therefore, well suited for the problem of vocabulary acquisition in the course of second-language learning. A number of spaced repetition softwares have been developed to aid the learning process. Alternative names for spaced repetition include spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsal, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, repetition scheduling, spaced retrieval and expanded retrieval.
If that didn't make much sense, let me break it down for you. I will first explain the technique, then show you how you can save even more time using free software.
Spaced Repetition is the process of using flashcards to learn new skills and repeating the process on a regular basis until you master a subject. This is done by prioritizing and repeating parts you are unable to answer correctly.
The first process is to create a deck of questions or clues for as much of the subject you can think of. You then set a schedule to regularly quiz yourself a few each session. If you get one wrong, you schedule to review it over your next session. If you get one right, you schedule the review further out.
This creates a process where you are always learning new cards but repeating cards you have difficulty with. Over time you will get over those difficulties and those cards will be reviewed less often.
Using real flashcards this becomes a very tedious process. There is software that will automate this entire process. You can also find premade cards for many popular topics from programming, science, and even foreign languages. There is a good chance you won't even need to make your own flashcards.
Anki is one of the more popular software solutions for Spaced Repetition Learning. Anki is free for PC & Web and has a paid solution for mobile.
After reviewing the answer for a card, you then decide how easy the card was. The harder the card was, the sooner you will revisit that card. Anki will also allow you to decide how many cards you will review per session and keep track of your progress with statistics.
Anki will intelligently schedule which new cards to show you and which cards to review based on how you rate your comfort level of each answer and how frequently you study.
While the download version of Anki is better than the web version, I recommend trying the web version with a shared deck to get familiar with the process. You won't be able to track statistics, but it is really easy to get up and running quickly.
The desktop software can sync your decks with the web and mobile versions so you can work from anywhere.
Ultimately I highly recommend the download version as it is free and has a lot more features.
These are not your standard flashcards
One of the great things about Anki is your flashcards don't have to be just text. Cards can include text, pictures, audio, syntax highlighting, mathematical formulas, and even CSS styling.
There is almost no limit to what you create for flashcards.
Where to download premade decks
You can download decks on almost every topic by going to:
Once you add a deck to your account, they will remain there on any device you use as long as you sync.
Want to learn Git?
There is a premade deck for that!
Want to study US presidents?
There is a premade deck for that!
Need to study Amino Acids?
You bet there is a deck already made.
Have kids? You can have them make their own cards for subjects they have difficulty with and dramatically increase their performance.