Tag Archives: Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition in education: Students learn four months worth of material in one hour

6 Nov

“The data suggest Spaced Learning is more efficient in comparison to standard teaching.”

That is the major finding of an important  paper by Kelley and Whatson that compares space repetition instruction to standard teaching.

Here is a chart presenting the dramatic results:


This chart shows that in their randomized experiment there was no significant difference between students who received standard teaching for four months and students who studied the same material for an hour using spaced repetition.

Here is their description of their results:

“The test data allowed a comparison of control group scores after four months teaching and experimental group scores after an hour of Spaced Learning. In Condition 1 there were a number of restrictions intended to limit the impact of prior learning in experimental groups. These groups were in an earlier academic year, tested nine months earlier than controls, and had not studied the first Biology course. The five day gap between learning through Spaced Learning and the test in effect eliminated STM accounting for test scores. Surprisingly, the experimental groups’ high-stakes test scores after an hour’s Spaced Learning were not significantly different from controls’ test scores after four months teaching”

I can not emphasize enough the importance of this work and suggest that you read the paper in its entirety.

For more on spaced repetition learning, and a chance to try it yourself, see my post about Memrise.

An overview of Memrise

8 Jul

I am going to make a bold prediction: spaced repetition software will revolutionize education. Merging the principles of memory first discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus with sophisticated software now allows us to make difficult memory tasks and make them both easier and more efficient.

Let’s take the example of learning a foreign language vocabulary. Vocabulary learning may be the biggest hurdle for people learning a new language. Spaced repetition software allows you to master vocabulary with small amounts of daily practice. The most persuasive argument I can make here is experiential. I invite you to try Memrise.

Memrise is the brain child of memory grand master Ed Cooke. It is a well designed  online spaced repetition flashcard program.

To use Memrise first visit the homepage:


Click start and create a free account.

mem-log in

After you have created your account you can choose flash cards  from an astonishingly large list of languages and other topics.

mem languages available

Here is my dashboard page showing two of the  languages I am studying

my dashboard

Memrise use a garden metaphor to describe learning. “Planting” means adding words to the list you want to learn, while, “watering” refers to your daily review. To get the most out of Memrise you should plan to water everyday (a process that usually takes just a few minutes) and to plant when you feel ready to move onto to new material.

Everyday, Memrise will test you on some subset of your chosen words. It will do this either by fill in the blank questions or multiple choice.

question answer

The software will evaluate how well you know each word and decide when to ask you again. If you do not know a word it will schedule to ask you again very soon. If you do know a word it increases the interval before it repeats that question. This spaced repetition procedure is known to counteract forgetting.

Memrise also provides you with user generated mnemonics to help you lean words. At the end of each session it gives you a summary of your work for that day. There is a point system that serves as a motivator.

Since this is a web based service you can access Memrise from anywhere. Memrise now has smartphone apps available. Start building a better memory today!


Roger Craig explains Anki

1 Jul

Over at the Quantifies Self, Jeopardy champion Roger Craig describes Anki a spaced repetition flashcard program.

Anki is a powerful tool for committing large amounts of information to memory with very brief daily practice. I use Anki everyday and strongly recommend it.

Roger Craig – Spaced Repetition: A Cognitive QS Method for Knowledge Acquisition from Steven Dean on Vimeo.

Thoughts on memory books

23 Jun

There are, in general, two types of memory books: scientific studies of memory or self improvement books.

One of my hopes for this blog is to bridge the gap between these two types of literature.

This means that I take seriously many popular books on memory improvement. Writers such as Harry Lorayne, Domonic O’Brien, and Tony Buzan are not scientists but they have made real contributions to memory improvement and should not be ignored. When Harry Lorayne  wrote that “all knowledge and learning is based on connecting new things to things you already know”  he was writing from his own experience and from the tradition of memory self-improvement. Yet, his observation is in keeping with the findings of modern memory science.  More over, Lorayne and others have demonstrated remarkable feats of memory that demand explanation and are worthy of scientific investigation. For example, Domonic O’Brien, once memorized 316 random digits in five minutes. His ability to memorize cards is so good that he has been banned from many casinos.

My only criticism of these popular books is their almost exclusive reliance on mnemonics. Now, mnemonics are a powerful technique that I use all the time, and I will certainly feature them in this blog. However, there are other techniques that are less well known, particularly spaced repetition learning that help us remember  many things that are not easily handled by mnemonics. You can try out spaced repetition learning at Memrise.

Memory Myth #1: “I have a terrible memory.”

19 Jun

You probably don’t. Unless you suffer from some memory disorder, such as amnesia, you most likely have an ordinary memory that can be used more effectively.

We usually have a very positive view of ourselves. When asked to compare themselves with others on such desirable traits as intelligence, generosity, or leadership skills, most people rate themselves as above average; a mathematical impossibility. There is even a name for this very human trait. It is called flawed self-assessment.

Athletic performance and memory are the exceptions. Most of us know we are not star athletes and most of us believe that we have poor memories. Perhaps this anomaly is caused by the nature of the feedback the world provides. Our friends loathe to set us straight about our generosity. They may feel it impolite to relate their true feelings about our intelligence. Athletic and memory feedback, however, come to us more directly. If we start the race thinking we can finish first, our expectation will soon be confirmed or disproved. Similarly, a memory failure can be direct, immediate, often visible to all, and, sometimes, deeply embarrassing . More over, as we get older, memory failure stirs up deep fears of mental frailty and impending senility.

I have good news. it is unlikely that you have a poor memory, rather you have a memory that can be improved. As you read through the better books on memory improvement, the authors will often tell you that they have quite ordinary powers of recall. Here is Dominic O’Brien making speaking about his memory:

I do not believe that this false modesty. Most of us can improve our memories with the application of well validated techniques. These techniques include mnemonic strategies, improved attention, and spaced repetition learning.

Stay tuned to this blog: all these techniques will be discussed in detail.

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