Flashcards. Flashcards. Flashcards. Can't have a blog named after a part of human brain without mentioning flashcards.

Between my last post and now I've been experimenting ways of integrating flashcards into my personal learning. Many people praise it, though I generally don't hear about it outside of language learning, medical and law studies, where Anki (the powerful open source flashcard software) receives majority of its users. I do want to learn German, but there are hell lot of other things I want to learn, that aren't law nor medical.

The idea of using Anki flashcards never left my mind since I read Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner, when I was researching tips to improve my language learning. Wyner's idea of treating the making of flashcards as a gamified process really resonated with me. I really did find entertainment value in collecting my personal associations with words and putting them together into flashcards. That process alone strengthens my memory with the words I was making cards for.

On top of that, I use Habitica, the todo list RPG. There is an Anki plugin to make progress in Habitica by completing Anki reviews. This is like doubling the gamification factor for me, and I spent most of my time feeling excited for card-making than playing video games.

That being said, two weeks later I still haven't started making an actual deck that I can stick with. What happened?

Anki cards have a hideous default HTML template (that is, zero styling). It's very boring to look at during reviews, and I consider eye candies as a gratification. So I started looking up card templates. Surprisingly there aren't many, despite the hype Anki receives, but there're some really advanced, pleasing and multi-functional card templates, complete with Javascript buttons and whatnot, that can spice your cards up.

Let's just say I spent most of my last two weeks tinkering with these templates, instead of actually making a deck. It's the exact same problem I have as trying to start a blog, website or whatever. I get stuck tinkering with the tools, instead of making content. I won't lie, I do enjoy tinkering with the tools and I don't feel bad about it. Although the actual content which my tools should serve, suffers instead.

Another hurdle I bumped into was association. I am in a bit of a desperate time right now, trying to either be employable or make money from front end development, which I'm still practising. So naturally, I want to make flashcards for front end development.

What end up happening is that I would absorb pages and hours of content about front end development, and actually struggled to make cards for them using the overly complicated templates, because I don't know what to ask/test myself. I simply have not come across a practical scenario where I'd need to use the knowledge I consumed. My motivation to make flashcards for programming first before I actually make something, was to avoid the frustration of not knowing what to do when I actually start, but now I experience the same thing happening with the reverse - I don't know what to say on the cards.

I've talked about it on Mastodon, and the conclusion is really just the lack of association. Also a gentle reminder that there's nothing to be ashamed of for bumping into stuff I don't know about.

This week I've been away from my laptop on an island retreat, so Anki has been out of my reach (it's just easier to make cards from PC), but the topic is still on my mind because I want to make it work somehow. Before I left home, I came across a book that I really needed to read. Not just want. Need. It was Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.

Nothing is more personally relevant to me than mental health. This book is packed full of things I want to remember for the rest of my life about depression and anxiety. While I'm in the mood for flashcards, the most logical thing to do is exactly that - to turn things I want to remember from the book into flashcards.

Finally I came up with a deck that I know I will stick to. I haven't even gone home to my PC yet.

Since then I know I also have a few other decks I could make that would actually be useful from personal association: ukulele chords, German, programming concepts that I have experimented with etc. From this whole experience, my most important take away was that there is absolutely no need to follow what works for other people, or even judge my own learning needs. I'm not sure how this takeaway will improve my chances of making rent money, but I want to enjoy the fact that I learned something new.

PS: I'll talk about Incremental Reading in my next post, which is a method I tried for extracting flashcard content from Matt Haig's book.

  • blog/flashcards.txt
  • Last modified: 2019/09/07 14:11
  • by rovina