Spaced repetition is not about memorization

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Spaced repetition isn't about memorization: this is somewhat of a clickbait title. It's more accurate to say "Spaced repetition isn't just about memorization, or even primarily about memorization". Of course spaced repetition involves memorizing things, but for me the interesting parts are about learning how my mind works, how to explain concepts better (e.g. better modeling how your reader's minds and attention work), and how to build an engaging way of learning. Spaced repetition is more about figuring out how to break apart knowledge into small pieces and understand things better, so as to become more effective at doing things in the world (including learning more things)

I think something like Tao Analysis Flashcards can be extremely fun to consume -- way more fun than playing Braid or Portal. And understanding how that "funness" is created is more important than actually making sure people retain all of what they've learned in real analysis.

When I think of "memorization", I think of like a complacency at having accumulated a bunch of knowledge, like "look at how many facts I know about the world" kind of ethos. But for me spaced repetition is much more future-oriented, like "what else can I learn, now that I have this prosthetic?"

Some of you may have expected a cynical Hansonian model when you saw the title, and maybe there is something like that too: people use spaced repetition software with all kinds of social motives like trying to look smart, to feed some kind of tinkering urge, etc.

Michael Nielsen makes a similar point: "Memory is not the point: The point of using memory systems is to make a better life, not memory in and of itself. To momentarily switch to a different type of tool, one common phenomenon with note-taking systems is that they become ends in themselves. I know people who can talk for hours about their note-taking system, but don't seem all that interested in using it to improve anything else in their life. I suppose it's a fun hobby, and that seems fine, but I do wonder at the motivation. Is it system building as self-soothing? This kind of thing seems less common with memory systems (so far), but it's easy to imagine happening."[1]

See also


  1. Michael Nielsen. "Building a better memory system". November 23, 2022.

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