Spaced repetition

In this blog post, we’ll talk about spaced repetition and about the latest award that SuperMemo has won for its spaced repetition methodology, which is used in Olive Green, the award-winning English course that we publish in Spain.

What exactly is spaced repetition? If the term sounds familiar, but you don’t quite remember what it is, maybe you need to start using spaced repetition. Because basically that’s what spaced repetition is: a tool to help you remember what you’ve learned.

After learning something new, most people forget it again quite quickly if they don’t repeat or practise what they’ve learned. So, the best way to memorise something is to repeat it. However, often this doesn’t happen – we move on to new topics, and only go back to revise what we learned earlier when we’ve already forgotten it. Too late, in other words. Then, by the time we finish relearning the original material, we’ve forgotten the new things we studied in between. This situation – of forgetting old material just as quickly as we acquire new knowledge – is something that many language students experience. So they hit a ceiling.

This is where spaced repetition comes in. Spaced repetition is based on the principle that once you learn a fact, you need to refresh your memory just before you forget it. It’s very difficult to predict when that will happen, but fortunately there are algorithms to help you.

In Olive Green, exercises from earlier scenes are repeated as you progress through the course. Each time you do a bit of the course, you do some exercises on the new material you’ve learned, and some repetitions of earlier material. The algorithm takes into account which questions you get right and wrong, and it even learns how quickly you personally forget things. Therefore, as it “gets to know you”, it gets better and better at predicting when it needs to refresh your memory. Not too soon, and not too late. This minimises the number of times that you need to repeat something in order for it to stick in your memory.

SuperMemo has won numerous awards for its spaced repetition methodology. A couple of weeks ago, at the prestigious Reimagine Education Awards 2019 in London, SuperMemo won the Science of Learning category for its method of spaced repetition. The jury included professors from Harvard and University College London, and it was competing against hundreds of teams, including one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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