Learn By Doing

A Lifelong Learner Shares Thoughts About Education

Want to Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm

Piotr Wozniak’s quest for anonymity has been successful. Nobody
along this string of little beach resorts recognizes him as the
inventor of a technique to turn people into geniuses. A portion of this
technique, embodied in a software program called SuperMemo,
has enthusiastic users around the world. They apply it mainly to
learning languages, and it’s popular among people for whom fluency is a
necessity — students from Poland or other poor countries aiming to
score well enough on English-language exams to study abroad. A
substantial number of them do not pay for it, and pirated copies are
ubiquitous on software bulletin boards in China, where it competes with
knockoffs like SugarMemo.

SuperMemo is based on the insight that there is an ideal moment to
practice what you’ve learned. Practice too soon and you waste your
time. Practice too late and you’ve forgotten the material and have to
relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you’re
about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every
person and each bit of information. Imagine a pile of thousands of
flash cards. Somewhere in this pile are the ones you should be
practicing right now. Which are they?