23 April 2008

How to Learn and Remember Anything

The mind remembers things--anything--best when the items to be learned are presented to the mind according to a particular schedule of "re-minding." This has been known for many decades. A computer program called "Supermemo" helps to organise information for proper presentation scheduling, according to this 100 year old + theory of learning.
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?

Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off. This pattern has long been known to cognitive psychology, but it has been difficult to put to practical use. It's too complex for us to employ with our naked brains.

Twenty years ago, Wozniak realized that computers could easily calculate the moment of forgetting if he could discover the right algorithm. SuperMemo is the result of his research. It predicts the future state of a person's memory and schedules information reviews at the optimal time. The effect is striking. Users can seal huge quantities of vocabulary into their brains.

...Our capacity to learn is amazingly large. But optimal learning demands a kind of rational control over ourselves that does not come easily. Even the basic demand for regularity can be daunting. If you skip a few days, the spacing effect, with its steady march of sealing knowledge in memory, begins to lose its force. Progress limps. When it comes to increasing intelligence, our brain is up to the task and our technology is up to the task. The problem lies in our temperament....You must clarify your goals, gain knowledge through spaced repetition, preserve health, work steadily, minimize stress, refuse interruption, and never resist sleep when tired. This should lead to radically improved intelligence and creativity. The only cost: turning your back on every convention of social life. It is a severe prescription. Wired__via__kurzweilai.net
More information about Supermemo here.

Supermemo is just one of twelve mind hacks presented by Wired at this webpage.

Of course, everyone will not be able to learn and remember everything. Each person has his limits. But in a world where educational systems seem more concerned about proper political indoctrination and orientation than in teaching students to use their minds, approaches to learning that actually work are most welcome.

Why do the schools not try to copy the brains natural methods of learning and remembering better? Many reasons, I suspect. Foremost among them is sheer incompetence on the part of those who teach the teachers. University schools of education are staffed by the ideologically correct, who seem intellectually inadequate to prepare the next generation of teachers to help future generations of students grow up to face a more challenging world.

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Blogger Dennis Mangan said...

Thanks for posting that, Supermemo looks like something I'll be using. Reading about it on their website, what struck me was just how few of us place learning high on our list of values. We just have to go our own way.

Wednesday, 23 April, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Good luck! I have used a method similar to that with good results--when I could remember to remind myself.

Wednesday, 23 April, 2008  

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