By Dr Alex Strick van Linschoten
As digital devices take up more and more of our daily lives, I've been trying to find ways to decrease the amount of time I spend behind a back-lit screen. This sometimes feels a little like a form of neo-luddism, though the omnipresence of technology in the rest of my life would seem to belie this.
I've previously written for this site to extoll the virtues of Anki and other digitally-managed tools for handling the backend of spaced repetition memorisation. So how do you manage all your different 'facts' and 'cards' without Anki to handle it all for you?
I've come across two methods that allow for a low-tech approach to spaced repetition: the Leitner System and the Goldlist Method.
The Leitner System: Cards and Boxes
Originally proposed by German journalist Sebastian Leitner, the Leitner system has you write out all your facts and information onto cards and use a series of boxes to keep track of how well you are recalling that information.
The system is highly flexible depending on your needs. If you had 3 boxes, for example, the first box you would go through every session. This is where your new cards start off. If you feel confident about your knowledge of the new word, you can move it to the second box. The second box you can review every second session. If the word in the second box is something you feel confident about, it can end up in the third box (which is itself reviewed every third session) and so on. If at any point (in any of the boxes) you forget a word or fact, it goes back to the first box. In order to properly replicate the spaced repetition 'algorithm', you'd want more boxes (perhaps as many as ten) but you can hopefully see how it is flexible and doesn't require any digital technology. Note, too, that you can replicate the multiple boxes with a single box. There is also a very handy 'schedule' which you can use to even more finely replicate the spacing that Anki would have you follow. (Watch this video for more on that.)
The Goldlist Method: Anki for Accountants
The Goldlist Method was invented by David James, a linguist and accountant from the UK. I'd strongly recommend checking out the following video to get an overview.
The basic principle is the same as with the Leitner box and all spaced repetition in general: things you learn advance through a series of 'stages', so you can focus on the words that are causing you the most trouble.
The Goldlist Method is optimised for the study of foreign vocabulary, however, and all the words are kept within a series of three A4-size notebooks.
I have used this method since the beginning of the year to learn the contents of a Dari dictionary. As something designed by an accountant, it can be said to lack excitement, though I have to say I enjoy the process and the method. I find it works more or less as well as Anki for ploughing through new vocabulary items.
The obvious point to note with the Leitner System relates to portability and travel. Unlike with Anki or Memrise, both of which store your progress in the cloud, if you lose your Leitner box(es), you've lost all your words and all your progress.
The advantage that both systems have, I've found, is that input is quick and extremely pleasant. For all the advantages of a digital system, nobody can say that creating cards using Anki or any other system is a delight...
The Goldlist Method is extremely portable, too, consisting of just a few notebooks. If you're travelling, you can get away with just the notebooks for the immediate topics/languages that you're studying.
Have you tried any of these methods before? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of using digital methods for employing spaced repetition in your learning?