SRS For the Rest of Us

Top language learners swear by it.

It’s scientifically proven to be the best way to memorize anything.

So why hasn’t spaced repetition learning gone mainstream – in language learning and elsewhere?

How come people are still studying words in the order they wrote them down in their notebooks?

In case you’re unfamiliar with SRS (spaced repetition learning systems), it’s based on the basic premise that there is an ideal time to review anything – right when you’re about to forget it. Too early and you’re over-reviewing something you know. Too late and it’s like you’re starting from scratch. (The problem with studying words in the order they appear in your notebook is that the order is arbitrary; you overstudy some words will understudying other words).

The promise of SRS is that you can memorize more efficiently by letting computers handle the “ordering” part.

So if it’s so good why isn’t everyone using SRS? I think there are a few reasons:

  1. SRS now involves text-based flashcards — not the most engaging content
  2. SRS now often entails creating your own decks — tracking things down and copying and pasting — who has time for that?
  3. SRS programs now are directed toward the power user — typical users can get bogged down by all the functionality
This suggests that anyone without any of the following qualities will have trouble sticking to an SRS regimen:
  1. iron will
  2. technical savvy
  3. organized (some would say “anal”) personality

And this suggests that SRS adoption could be improved by:

  1. Using interesting content (eg. video clips)
  2. Making it easier for users to fill decks
  3. Simplifying the process so that users are hardly aware that they are using SRS


Stay tuned!

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