Whether we’re cramming for an exam, learning a language or opening a business, we’re always learning new things.
So it goes without saying that if you can improve your ability to learn and memorize new things, you’ll be more successful in virtually anything you do. From adopting a new language to mastering a new subject and from taking on a passion project to expanding your professional skill set, the applications of learning how to learn are limitless.
That’s where spaced repetition comes in. A simple technique for improving your learning memory, spaced repetition allows you to take in more information with a much higher rate of memorization, literally putting your learning memory into hyperdrive.
The single biggest change is that memory is no longer a haphazard event, to be left to chance. Rather, I can guarantee I will remember something, with minimal effort: it makes memory a choice.
– Michael Nielsen on using spaced repetition
What is spaced repetition and how does it improve learning ability?
So, what is spaced repetition and what does it entail?
Spaced repetition is a concept from cognitive science. It involves reviewing information at progressively longer intervals (hence the “spaced”) to improve learning memory.
Spaced repetition was first proposed as an effective method for learning by Psychologist C. A. Mace in 1932:
“Perhaps the most important discoveries are those which relate to the appropriate distribution of the periods of study…Acts of revision should be spaced in gradually increasing intervals, roughly intervals of one day, two days, four days, eight days, and so on,” said Mace. Those initial ideas went on to become part of many of the first ever language and computer skills courses.
The basic premise is as simple as it sounds: the more you recall a piece of information, the more embedded in your mind that information becomes.
It’s a very simple idea that’s incredibly easy to apply, but the results are far greater than if you were to simply cram a bunch of studying on a topic in one big go, as most of us tend to do.
It doesn’t involve hefty amounts of work, just a decent review at specific intervals. And that’s where this method really shines. So, if you use spaced repetition, you can learn the same or more information in less total time.
In addition, a sophisticated spaced repetition program or app (several of which we’ve listed below) has the ability to separate the information you do and don’t remember, taking the information you have not yet memorized from the original body of information and placing more focus onto that to maximize your available time.
An optimal spaced repetition system is a bit difficult to track on your own. Fortunately, we now have software that can simplify the process for us.
Great spaced repetition apps
Here are three great apps for using spaced repetition. Each is unique and offers a different way of utilizing spaced repetition:
Anki is probably the best-known app that uses spaced repetition to improve learning. If you’re looking to take advantage of the method without any fancy add-ons, this is a simple and straightforward application that will help you do just that.
Quizlet is easily the most diverse and flexible option on this list, as it has millions of various different study sets for countless different subjects. Highly customizable, Quizlet is a robust learning app that makes full use of spaced repetition across different scenarios.
One of the single best applications of spaced repetition is learning a new language, an effort that requires huge amounts of our learning memory. Memrise is an app that makes full use of the technique to help maximize your ability to learn any new language quickly and effectively.