When you think flash card, think Mnemosyne

Good students of mythology will remember that Mnemosyne was the personification of memory in Greek mythology, and the mother of the Muses. Weaker students might learn more about mythology – or any topic – by spending time with Mnemosyne, an easy-to-use flash card program with a twist: it uses a sophisticated algorithm to schedule the best time for a card to come up for review. Difficult cards that you tend to forget get scheduled more often, while Mnemosyne doesn’t waste your time on things you remember well.

While you use the software, Mnemosyne can keep detailed statistics about your learning process. If you want, these logs can be uploaded easily and anonymously to a central server for analysis. Researchers can use the data to study the behavior of our memory over a long time period. As an additional benefit, the developers can use the results to improve the scheduling algorithms behind the software.

Belgian developer Peter Bienstman started building Mnemosyne in 2006. “Other flash card applications at that time were difficult to use, and I also wanted to collect data for memory research,” he says. “The program is written using Python and Qt, two well-thought-out pieces of software that allow you to be very productive.”

The project is currently working toward the 2.0 release, which will be a complete rewrite that allows for features such as arbitrary N-sided cards, multiple categories per card, and graphical statistics. It will also run on more mobile device platforms. Bienstman says the new design is flexible, such that any component of Mnemosyne – even the database back end or the scheduler – can be modified with plugins. “In this way, we will have a program that is both easy to use for the novice and infinitely customizable for the power user.”


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