Learning quickly can be a key skill in today’s fast-paced world, especially for people in technical fields where the state of the art may be constantly changing.
Unfortunately, many people are “use it or lose it” learners—even if they are able to learn quickly and well, long-term retention may suffer from periodic lack of use, leading to the need to relearn skills revisited years later. A learning strategy named Spaced Repetition Learning can help solve these issues.
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Spaced Repetition Learning (SRL)
This is based on the fact that the brain may need multiple exposures to a new fact or concept in order to remember it. For example, a child may learn language by constantly conversing with parents and others, getting repeated exposures to simple vocabulary before it is fully internalized (although the phenomenon known as fast mapping may sometimes short-circuit the need for repetition). SRL is well-suited to the task of memorizing and internalizing vocabulary, as well as many other types of information.
However, research on memorization shows that the best time for a new fact to be remembered, “cementing” it in memory, is often just before it is about to be forgotten. Based on this discovery, ideal repetition sequences have been mapped out: a new fact memorization might best be first practiced several minutes after the first time, then several hours, a day, several days, several weeks, several months, etc. At a point which will vary based on the individual, the fact has been permanently memorized and will never be forgotten, even with very rare reminders.
Software can help with such memorization, taking user input of facts desired to be memorized—any facts—and scheduling reminders of the information at optimal intervals. The software can be used daily, presenting on each day the facts whose optimal memorization time is about to elapse .
After the presentation of each quiz question, if the user indicates that the problem was too easy, the interval until the next presentation of that fact or question will be increased; if the user indicates it was harder than normal, the time for re-presentation will be shortened. Free, open source SRL software is available, called Anki, written in Python and supported on all major platforms, including mobile operating systems.
Some SRL Software Options
Other SRL software implementations include eSpindle Learning, Flashcard Exchange, Course Hero, Memrise, Mnemosyne, Skritter, SuperMemo, Winflash, and OpenCards.
Anyone who has used flash cards to memorize knows what a useful tool they can be; SRL software is like adaptive flash cards on steroids. But like any other form of learning, memorization is not everything. You actually have to understand what you are learning—that is, learning is based on remembering knowledge instead of mere raw information.
Thus the first step to successfully learning and memorizing a knowledge domain is to fully, deeply understand what you are attempting to memorize. Appropriate strategies for different learners can be used at this stage; each person knows himself or herself best.
Next, the learner must convert the knowledge into small, bite-sized facts as much as possible. These are the sorts of facts that would be placed on flash cards, or entered into the SRL software. Focus on presenting each piece of information in as simple a way as possible, avoiding wordiness and boiling each fact down to its essence.
If there are helpful mnemonic tricks that can be presented on the flashcard or in the SRL software quiz question, include it. Use visual imagery when helpful and appropriate.
Cross-link the information as much as possible. On a particular flash card or SLR software quiz question, a short reference to another fact will serve to establish a relationship between the two, cementing both and fostering memory of big-picture knowledge.
If possible, link questions (on cards or in software) in pairs or groups of three, as appropriate. For example, when learning a new foreign word, it may be helpful to generate separate questions for its pronunciation and its meaning. Using all of these techniques, spaced repetition can greatly improve the capacity to learn and remember new material quickly and efficiently.
Daniel Wilson is a freelance writer who enjoys covering a very wide range of topics, and creates articles for many different types of business, from software companies, to fashion blogs, and also recently for a service manual download website.