Sunday, January 22, 2012


This past week, I received the news that the essay I wrote about my first semester of teaching with Anki has been accepted for publication in our university's inhouse journal! Hurrah!

The title is "Internet-based Spaced Repetition Learning In and Out of the Classroom: Implementation and Student Perception." Once I am done revising it based on readers' comments, I will post it on a google site.

I'm very excited because it is my first attempt to formally share what I am trying to do in the classroom with Anki. It is more focused on what I did in the classrooms and what the students thought of it; I did not try to prove the effectiveness of Anki.

I am also relieved because if we decide to stay in Japan longer than my five-year contract at Asia University, having publications will greatly help my job hunting...

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's all about time...

I met Aaron through his website, The Everyday Language Learner. He had written an interesting article about paper flash cards, and of course, I had to chime in about Anki!

So, in revenge, he asked me to write a guest post about Anki as a follow up. I was really excited to write it and thought a lot about what I wanted to say. I tried to figure out what is REALLY SPECIAL about Anki and why I am so crazy about it.

So, this post, Anki: Bringing Flashcards out of the Stone Age is my attempt to distill the importance of Anki and what I want to shout at people who refuse to use it. Sorry if that sounds a little strong, but I didn't want to write just another warm, comforting, encouraging entreaty for people to study. I wanted to cut away all the crap and look at the cold, hard reality of learning and how Anki can help.

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cognitive Fluency - what goes on behind the scenes in our brains!

This article from the Boston Times, Easy = True, really blew my mind about how our brains work.

After reading it and thinking about all its ramifications, I radically changed my teaching (and better understood my own Japanese learning). I highly recommend you read this article. It has implications far beyond just teaching and learning.

*Update - A reader asked me to explain better how it relates to my teaching, especially in terms of Anki.

I think the key passage from the article is as follows (I put the key words in bold):

"The persuasive power of repetition, clarity, and simplicity is something that people who set out to win others’ trust - marketers, political candidates, speechwriters, suitors, and teachers - already have an intuitive sense of if they’re good at what they do. What the fluency research is showing is just how profound the effect can be, and just how it works."

The research seems to show that our brains like the information to be repeated, clear, and simple. In terms of teaching, I think if these three concepts are not present in what we do in the classroom, then our students' brains will not be happy, and therefore, they will not learn. Our students will not trust us and will not relax enough to learn effectively.

Repetition - Not only should we provide the repetition of content to the students, but our students should be able to repeat (do again and again) what we ask of them. If they can't, for whatever reason, their brains will be unhappy and they won't learn.

Clarity - Our students must understand what they are doing and why. From my own experience in Japanese language classes here in Tokyo, not understanding what the teacher is asking me to do is EXTREMELY frustrating and drives me crazy. It makes me want to quit...

Simplicity - This is not to say that the content (i.e. English) should be simple but that the activity itself should not be complicated or difficult. Again, the brain does not like things that are hard. Yes, we should challenge our students but not in a way that turns them off from learning.

So, how does this relate to Anki? Well, it seems to me that Anki could be a perfect manifestation of these three concepts. It is all about repetition. It is very clear about what a user must do and how it works. It is a very simple process, elegant even. And I think it is Anki's simplicity that is the most important. It takes the extremely difficult process of organizing, sorting, sequencing, and checking a huge amount of information and reduces it to a simple click of a button. An Anki user doesn't have to stress about all that; it takes all the worry out of the process. That freedom from stress and worry is amazing and powerful.

When I try to summarize this aspect of Anki to people, I say, "You only have to study what you NEED to study WHEN you need to study it." To me, that feels like a warm, soft blanket on a cold, rainy day...

However, how do we get our students to realize and understand all of this? That is the challenge...