21 Jul

Anki – Cool Flashcard App

Anki is a spaced repetition application, based around user-generated flashcards. I have been using it about nine months and it has been great for learning Polish, programming syntax, and keeping my Spanish ticking over, even if I’m not a fan of rote learning. The cards are shown using a display algorithm. That’s where the real magic of this nifty little program is.

Here at Elm we make great software for a living and like that which makes living easier too. Life in a start-up doesn’t slow down for much, and there is no harm to have another tool in the box – whatever the interest! Ok, first things first.

Card Decks & Entering Information

Card decks can be created or you can create your own. For the most part I create my own decks. The learning comes from creating the decks, which takes work. No pain no gain.

Each card has a front and back. The front of the card is the prompt, the back is the answer. So, if learning a language I often just have the English word on the front, the answer on the back being the translated word. For programming, I use a similar model for code snippets and concepts. The front and back of the cards can show text, images, audio and video files so there are lots of options.

Most of the learning is in the process of recognising the relevant information, entering the information and then reviewing it. I find specifically selecting stuff to be entered into Anki is what makes the learning meaningful.

The Anki Algorithm

When you go to review a deck, cards are shown back to you. The question first, press show, and the answer is display. The cards that are selected to be shown back to you depend on a number of factors including when the card was created, when it was last shown to you, and what you rated the card as.

When a card is shown to you, it can be rated as again, hard, good, or easy. See the detailed Anki documentation for further details. Basically though, I have found that I am generally shown cards in a good order (i.e. when I need to be refreshed). If a card appears and I don’t have a clue what the answer is, by rating it ‘hard’ it is kicked back higher in the deck and I will see it again soon.

Using Anki Wherever   

Like everything else nowadays, there is a mobile app for Anki. So Anki decks can be reviewed and edited on the go. The decks are synced between devices so you always have the most up to date version on hand. Moments of downtime are when I like to reach for the app.

My Tips For Using Anki

  • Kill some ten minutes a day on the commute.
  • Set the default cards for a day to 50 instead of 20 for a deck you are relatively proficient with.
  • Trying to ingrain Javascript rules or a language with bizarre words – like Polish. In fact at this stage I have invented another written sub language – (English alphabet) Phonetic Polish!
  • Keep the questions and answers short if possible. More text adds to the time spent reviewing cards.
  • Unfortunately it won’t turn you into a memory genius of any kind or have you speaking 7 languages like this Irish guy. It might get you slightly closer though. Enjoy.