Learning with flashcards. Suitable or not?

Students often find learning definitions very boring. Flashcards can make learning both more fun and more effective. However, the way you use them strongly determines the quality of learning in the longer term.

Flashcards are cards with a concept on one side and an explanation on the other side. There are also numerous flash card apps in circulation. The cards are very useful for practicing, repeating and checking concepts. When the student has mastered a concept and its definition, the flashcard can be put aside (‘dropped’). But how do you determine when to put down a flashcard?

Dropping a flashcard
A study conducted at the University of California showed that the effectiveness of learning with flashcards is strongly determined by the moment a student decides to drop a card. Students who did this too early were less able to (re)produce definitions over time. Those who dropped cards too late did not have enough time to study the more complex definitions.

Effective use
There are several techniques that can help to use flashcards in an effective way. This video explains how the Leitner system can make difficult definitions come back more often when learning with flashcards. Tips for optimizing and using flashcards can be found in this video.

Advantage for teachers
Flashcards, if used properly, are recommended for first year students who need to stomp on terms and definitions. But teachers can also benefit from this. Perhaps an idea for a last lecture before the test (let students make their own flashcards) or an alternative quiz at the end of a lecture!

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