Studying Technology and Technology for Studying


Carl Colglazier


December 6, 2015

When I was a high school student studying Latin, I always dreaded the basic process of memorization. The way I studied then, learning vocabulary involved creating individual flashcards by hand and tediously going card by card trying to determine which words were my weakest. Proper reviewing was nearly impossible because I had no way of keeping track of that words that I had mastered. As a consequence of what I would not consider poor studying techniques, I constantly struggled with even basic vocabulary in each of my four years of studies.

As I prepared to make the transition from high school to university, I knew I had to make my studies far more organized, especially with the heavy schedule I was to take. I am now approaching the end of my first semester at university and looking back, I can see a lot of places in which I have already improved and several places where I still see room for improvement.

what i’ve learned thus far

I am now paying for a few of the mistakes I made earlier in the semester. In particular, I would like to improve my workflow to allow time for reviewing older material throughout the semester, enabling much more efficient long-term learning.

In order to do this, I have started to turn basically everything I learn into flash cards. Yes, I am now fully embracing my high school nightmare; however, these are not your traditional flashcards.

I am using a computerized system called Anki to both create and organize flashcards on a variety of subjects. Anki uses a learning technique called spaced repetition to optimize long-term memorization. The core idea is that our brains tend to discard information that we do not use, but if we continuously use a piece of knowledge, it becomes much easier over time to maintain that knowledge.

Anki is traditionally used for language-learning (I have some rather extensive decks of both Latin and Esperanto vocabulary words), but there are many other applications. For example, I used Anki over the summer to help me remember United States capital cities. I also have decks that I am using to commit to memory various pieces of art and classical music.

practice makes perfect

While I have learned quite a bit in all the lectures which I have attended, I have discovered that I learn material best by putting it to use, either in the process of making formal essays or in the process of solving practice problems.

As I am going back to some of the practice problems I used earlier this semester, it has amazed me just how much material I have almost completely forgotten over the course of only a few months.

My plan to fix this problem next semester? Flash cards for everything!

New concepts? Flashcards.

Practice problems? Flashcards.

Graded quizzes? Flashcards.

Computer-aided learning has turned an activity I previously dreaded to my primary means of learning. Funny how that works.