There’s a fascinating article by Gary Wolf in this month’s Wired titled “Want to Remember Everything You’ll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm” about using software to help optimize an individuals memorization process.
We’re all familiar with the notion that memorizing facts takes persistence, time and repetition. What isn’t so obvious is that there’s an optimum time to practice the recollection of facts you are trying to learn, and that time is precisely before you are about to forget that fact:
Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you’ve forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you’re about to forget. Unfortunately, this moment is different for every person and each bit of information.
Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially.
Wolf’s article primarily discusses Piotr Wozniak’s SuperMemo software, an application which is designed to take advantage of this insight. You fill it with a database of things you’d like to remember, and it attempts to model your retention curve for each of the facts while you use it, prompting you to recall information at just the right time to optimally burn it into memory.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down an open source tool that does anything similar. Some of the legacy versions of SuperMemo appear to be freeware, and the full application itself isn’t expensive, but I can’t help but think this would make for a really cool open source package.
Software aside, I wonder how effective a person could become at general studying and fact retention by taking this insight into consideration. Are any readers actively using this tool or something similar? I’d love to hear your comments.