Manipulate the brain to tap into our long-term memory

Everybody is learning something fresh every day. The moment that we realize something is the pleasant “aha” instant that we succeed to connect the dots and assimilate the concept. Our careless mind believes that understanding will last forever, although in the next couple of days the idea is already stolen by our brain zombies (zombie is a term coined in Learn How to Learn course). The more time interval between the review of the concept the more susceptible to completely forget it. This incurs the loss of our time, energy and ultimately efficiency.

Spaced Repetition

Intuitively people may think they will ingrain and internalize the concept by just repeatedly reading the text in the same session. However, our brain doesn’t function in this manner. In this post I will describe a learning technique called “spaced repetition”; a scientifically proven technique to send information from our short-term memory to the everlasting long-term memory. The notion of spaced repetition tells to incrementally increase the time between reviews of the concept. For example, see this image from Learn How to Learn online course:

spaced repetition

Up to now, we know that this spaced repetition is in harmony with our brain system. The real question would be:

“how do we integrate it with our learning habits”?

I spend most of my time on writing my thesis, programming and learning more literary English. When I learn a new notion related to my field of study, a new programming function or an English word I used to write it somewhere on my computer. The problem with this approach is: although I promised myself to review the material, I would not. In future, I have to spend the same amount of time to remember or even worse to re-learn the piece of the chunk.

Anki

Anki is a nice piece of open-source software. It is written in pure python and you can easily learn it. There is also an android/ios version and you can sync your data between devices. Anki simultaneously combines a slew of learning techniques including the “spaced repetition”, “recall” and “mini-testing”. It’s worthwhile to mention that Anki builds on its predecessor SuperMemo; both underpin “Leitner Box” idea founded by a German scientist called Sebastian Leitner who popularized a method of spaced repetition with paper flashcards.

anki

As of the date of this writing, I started to use the tool, my learning style is totally changed. Instead of just writing new stuff somewhere I try to make a simple question out of the newly learned notion, programming function or vocabulary; then add it (create card) to the Anki. At the end of the day spare 10-20 minutes reviewing the cards I have created. Anki has a scoring system: you answer to your own created questions by just recalling and subsequently scoring your answers on the basis of your recall strength. If you recall the answer instantly, It is likely that the answer resides in your long-term memory; on the contrary, if you hardly recall the idea, you will tell Anki to re-show the question in the next 1-4 days. The more comfortable you become with the answer the more spaced repetition of the card will happen.