Wired Mag on Remembering Stuff

The May issue (16.05) of Wired Magazine has an awesome article about memory. Good stuff for both the teacher and student in me.

Here’s the I’m-too-busy-to-read-the-article summary: if you review stuff you’ve learned, you’ll remember it better. If you review too soon, you’ll waste your time. If you wait too long, you’ll have forgotten. The trick, it seems, is to pinpoint the exact right time to study.

Piotr Wozniak, the focus of the article, created software called SuperMemo that figures out just when you’re going to forget something and presents review material then. How does it work? Does it work?

I found the historical background of memory fascinating. Somewhere near the end of the nineteenth century, a German psychologist named Hermann Ebinghaus described something called the “spacing effect”:

Ebbinghaus showed that it’s possible to dramatically improve learning by correctly spacing practice sessions. On one level, this finding is trivial; all students have been warned not to cram. But the efficiencies created by precise spacing are so large, and the improvement in performance so predictable, that from nearly the moment Ebbinghaus described the spacing effect, psychologists have been urging educators to use it to accelerate human progress.

In the spacing effect, I found excellent food-for-thought for teaching. It occurs to me that I don’t give the review component of my class enough attention. What good is knowledge gained if it’s going to be forgotten very shortly?

If you care about remembering things (or teaching others to remember things), read this article!

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3 thoughts on “Wired Mag on Remembering Stuff

  1. I saw this same article in Wired. I went to Wozniak’s website in hopes of finding something more concrete about applying this concept to classroom learning. Supermemo is computer based and designed for the individual learner. (Although I am tempted to purchase it and give it a try.)

    Reviewing is important but how do you track which bits of content to come back to and when. I was thinking about a set of notecards or possibly web pages that I could sort based on student recall. It all became slightly overwhelming to think about and I had to take a nap. 😉

    But there should be a time efficient way to do this and I suspect someone has already figured it out.

  2. Al: I agree, the thought of unrelenting review would be exhausting for an entire classroom. Every kid needs different review at different times. If a teacher throws the same review at all the students…well, we know what happens when the same thing is given to an entire classroom, and it isn’t pretty.

    Hrm, how *would* Wozniak’s work be applicable to the classroom?

    Dana: Thanks!

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