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The Insatiability Flaw

I have started to compile a list of common issues and problems I see in the various flashcard programs I have been reviewing. I have created a page which will gather this information for developer reference: The Issues Page

The insatiability flaw is exhibited by flashcard applications which provide no pause or “completion” during the course of interval study in such a way that recognizes that some cards are not currently in need of review. It is problematic because it provides users with no way to efficiently manage their time by endlessly prompting them to review cards which the student is not likely to be on the verge of forgetting. Obviously, they can and should be continually prompted if there are indeed words that are untested or which are due for review, but otherwise, the application shouldn’t drag out cards that need not be reviewed for weeks or months (Though they should provide a way for users truly eager to continue reviewing, or offer a comprehensive study on demand feature).

Students turn to flashcards because they believe their study is a useful and efficient form of study. Most of them recognize that, when it comes to vocabulary acquisition and maintenance for example, it is an inferior method when compared to the frequent and sustained production and practice of a language in an organic communication setting. However, given that we do not always find ourself in such a setting, or find the range of our communication more limited than that needed for reaching and preserving our desired level of proficiency, flashcard study is an imperfect but helpful alternative.

However, given that our time is a limited resource and we may be engaged in flashcard study of multiple languages or sets of knowledge units generally defined, flashcard applications which are “insatiable” in their appetite to prompt us to review words give us no indication of when we have completely reviewed all words we are on the verge of forgetting.

The best way for a developer to think about this when designing their application is to remember that while it is crucial that the developer avoid the more serious Cookie Monster Flaw they should also keep this principle in mind:

An interval study system nears perfection the further it approaches an environment which only prompts a student to review those units of knowledge they are on the verge of forgetting.

If there is some advanced algorithm included which takes into account the user’s truancy it may want to provide early prompting of words that are not quite yet on the verge, but only based on some statistically guided expectation of future truancy of the user.

One Comment

  1. Doug wrote:

    Why does “truancy” need to be statistically predicted? Why not just give the option to the student to over-practice before a vacation and trust the student? (or maybe both would be useful.)

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink