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!