Monday, December 19, 2011

Anki fail

Last semester, full of enthusiasm for Anki, I tried to use it with a high level, second year group - a content based International Relations class that met once a week. As there was a lot of vocabulary to be learned related to issues such as refugees, climate change, gender issues, etc., Anki seemed a good way to teach the vocabulary needed in class discussions and activities.

So, similar to some other projects at the time, I created a class account and individual decks for all the students with the first unit's vocabulary. All the students were shown how to access the Anki website and use the program to study. There you go, kids; good luck!

Well, I'm sure you can guess that it didn't work out very well. Some students reported technological problems. Some said it didn't match their learning styles and that they preferred a traditional list on paper. Some, well, I just don't know why they didn't use Anki.

However, in hindsight, I can think of a major reason why it did not work. The bi-weekly vocabulary quizzes only tested the vocabulary for the new unit. Once the quiz was over, there was no pressure on the students to study/remember the old vocabulary. Anki is for long term retention of information and is not particularly well suited for cramming the night before.

Once the students stopped, understandably, reviewing the cards after the quiz, the system broke down. Then later, when I added a new unit's worth of cards to their decks, they couldn't get to them because of all the old reviews in the way. of course they didn't like Anki.

The main lesson for the teacher here is that the content of the Anki deck has to be needed by the student throughout the time frame of the class. There has to be some kind of pressure to keep the students reviewing the material as the class progresses.

If I were to do it again, and I probably will for next year's class, I will have weekly quizzes that cover all the vocabulary from past lessons. Hopefully, this will create that pressure to continue using Anki. However, I will need to figure how to structure the quiz as the amount vocabulary begins to increase. I don't want to spend too much time in class giving the quiz.

Any thoughts or suggestions?


  1. Good point...this is something that I need to address with my sixth form class too.

    I think that maybe having a weekly vocab test with 10 or so current topic words and 10 or so words from all vocab studied so far might be a reasonable compromise.

  2. The weekly quizzes that I have my students do always include several review items--maybe 5 out of 20 questions. This keeps them on their toes, so they have a good reason to keep studying all of the cards all semester long.

    I also make any card fair game on the final exam--it's completely comprehensive. With Anki as a learning tool, this is not too much to ask.

    I'm not sure the exact ratio matters; 10 + 10 seems good to me, too. I think the main point is to include review items each time.

  3. Yeah, I agree. As I said in the post, the students have to know that they will need the material as the class progresses - just like learning a language in life...