Introduction to SuperMemo:
What is it good for?
In this chapter you can find a discussion about the problem people have with forgetting and the dilemma of repeating old knowledge vs learning new material, and how SuperMemo solves it.
The chapter is split into these four sections:
Have you noticed that soon after learning a new study material you remember very little of it? The less you have a chance to rehearse what you have learned, the greater the speed with which the newly acquired knowledge evaporates from your memory.
It has long been known that repetitio mater studiorum est (Latin: repetition is the mother of learning). In other words, the best way to remember is to make repetitions of the learned material. However, you might find it quite frustrating when you have to repeat the old material while you need to learn more and more new stuff, and cannot find time for both.
Usually, you find a solution in-between. You spend most of your time learning new things, forgetting what you have learned earlier, and rehearsing only the material that is needed for current exams or other emergencies. The net result is disastrous! Most of your time goes to waste as you forget most of the learned knowledge. Naturally, you gain general understanding of the studied phenomena, but understanding is also based on memory traces and is equally volatile. It is only a question of time when you irreversibly lose most of your investment in learning.
Is the situation presented above inevitable? The pressures of the day do not really let you rehearse what you have learned earlier. The educational systems throughout the world are organized in a way that penalizes those who do not master the new material. You are pushed into nonsensical situation. You are truly forced to waste your time and your life.
Once you learn a new fact, you would like to refresh your memory before forgetting takes place. However, it may be very difficult to predict the moment of forgetting. Some facts are forgotten faster, other can stay in your memory for years.
Luckily, there are some regularities in the process of forgetting that can help you optimize the timing of repetitions. If you learn a collection of new pieces or items of knowledge, you can observe a slow but regular decline in the proportion of items you remember. If you employ the computer to plot the forgetting curve, you can easily predict when a given proportion of items will be forgotten. If you decide to constantly remember at least 90% of the material, you might try to schedule your repetition at the point when you still remember 90% of what you have learnt.
However, the process of forgetting has a random nature and, at the moment of repetition, you cannot easily say which items will last longer and which will be forgotten soon. The picture becomes more complicated if you realize that different items have different difficulty and require different inter-repetition intervals. Moreover, items that have already been repeated once or twice need much less refreshing than those that have just been learned.
Are you getting lost? Do not despair. There has been a lot of effort put into finding out the regularities in the process of learning. As a result, effective algorithms have been developed that are able to quickly determine the best possible interval for an item depending of its difficulty, the number of earlier repetitions, and other factors. Those algorithms are implemented in the SuperMemo software.
The SuperMemo software will manage your repetitions without much involvement on your part. It is not a painless solution though, as it does not allow you to learn with no effort at all. However, it can be demonstrated in strictly scientific terms that SuperMemo helps you increase the speed of learning manifold. Over a lifetime, SuperMemo allows you to learn up to 10-50 times faster than by means of conventional methods, and makes it possible to reach knowledge retention of 95% or more!
SuperMemo minimizes the effects of forgetting and the overall time needed for learning. This is done by scheduling repetitions of knowledge in carefully determined intervals of time called optimum intervals. These are calculated on the basis of two contradictory criteria:
As optimum intervals differ for particular facts or rules that are to be remembered, you need to split the knowledge into small pieces called items or cards. Splitting knowledge into small pieces makes it possible for SuperMemo to determine optimum intervals for each item independently, thus increasing the effectiveness.
- Intervals should be as long as possible to obtain the minimum frequency of repetitions, and to make the best use of the so-called spacing effect, which says that longer inter-repetition intervals, up to a certain limit, produce better memories.
- Intervals should be short enough to ensure that the knowledge is still remembered.
The simplicity of items is very important for cytophysiological reasons as well. Simple items make it possible for the right neuronal synapses to be fully stimulated at the right time. Complex items result in trains of diversified nervous impulses that result in unpredictably intricate memory patterns at the cellular level. This makes optimization of learning difficult or even impossible. Using optimum intervals and the simplicity of items are the formula for speed and high retention.
However, the speed of learning is not the most important element of education. It is the quality of knowledge that counts. SuperMemo allows you to learn very fast, but it is your responsibility to properly choose the learning material prepared by yourself or by someone else.
SuperMemo makes it possible to reduce the time necessary for repetitions drastically and it will help you to organize your memory, even if you decide to spend only 15 minutes per day on learning. You should try to experiment with it - store the newly acquired wisdom in SuperMemo and see it change your life!
- The key to effective learning is in minimizing the number of repetitions necessary to retain your knowledge in your memory.
- SuperMemo minimizes the overall time needed for learning by computing optimal intervals between individual repetitions.
- Not you but SuperMemo decides what and when will be repeated.
- The quality of learning also depends on the selection of the learning material and the way it is split into individual items.