mnemo - Theory

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Any sufficiently advanced theory is indistinguishable from baloney.
(apologies to Arthur C. Clarke)


Dr. Wozniak's SuperMemo web site has a ton of information about how he came up with his method and some of the work which had been done previously in the field of accellerated learning. It's worth reading. Although "mnemo" doesn't implement his algorithm, two of the principles his web site describes should be understood by the "mnemo" user:
Active Recall
the (obvious) notion that simply being exposed to the information is not as effective as trying to recall it from memory on demand.
Minimum Information
the idea that information should be organized into "items" containing the smallest practical amounts.

His approach is complicated, and seems to carry a fixation on the concept of "pages" from the years during which he experimented with his algorithm manually, on paper. The combination of ideas that he came up with was effective though.

The "mnemo" Principles

In addition to those two concepts from SuperMemo, here are some of the principles which the "mnemo" algorithm is based upon:
  • Rather than mere repetition, item rehearsal should become less and less frequent. This is consistent with the idea that repetitions should be needed less as the student learns, and allows more knowledge to be added to the database.
  • Repetitions should be spaced in calendar time rather than just spread out during drill times. The brain is always working, it doesn't go "on hold". Even periods of sleep are important to the learning process (although "mnemo" doesn't account for that, which gives a bit of a first-day "hump").
  • Groupings of items should be based on context rather than arbitrary "pages". This follows from the principle of minimum information.
  • The program should not deduce anything from the student's history of success or failure with an item during drill.

That last one is important. Did you get it right because you remembered it for the whole interval, or did you only remember it for a few minutes after being reminded of it by something else? Being passively reminded of something may help you get the item right once, but I don't think it helps build long-term retention... it doesn't mean that the item is any "easier". What if that reminder (e.g., the note stuck to your monitor) goes away? Is the item still "easy"? How long will you have to go on not-knowing it until the drill program catches on?

This is one of the most important ways in which "mnemo" differs from other SuperMemo-inspired applications. This is why you can expect retention of 95% or better of all material at any time rather than the mere 80% which is the goal of Dr. Wozniak's software. Logo Copyright © 2003,2005 Rick Miller