Spaced repetition memory systems can accelerate the unpleasant early stages of learning a subject

One common negative reaction to working with a Spaced repetition memory system is: “I’d much rather get my hands dirty: then I’ll naturally end up remembering whatever’s important.” (Enabling environments focus on creating opportunities for growth and action, not on skill-building) But when you’re first interacting with a new subject, it’s hard to take any meaningful steps at all: at least for a while, you often can’t hold enough of the new terms and ideas in your head simultaneously long enough to do anything meaningful (related: Novices in enabling environments often can’t do what’s enabled). In this context, a Spaced repetition memory system can help by accelerating you through this awkward, unpleasant stage to the point where you can actually have a meaningful experience with the material (related: Enabling environments’ activities directly serve an intrinsically meaningful purpose).

For instance, a meaningful way to learn French might be to have conversations with French speakers. But if you’ve just started, you don’t know enough of the language to have a real conversation—or at least, the experience may be so uncomfortable that you won’t repeat it. Memory systems can help you rapidly skip ahead to the learning stage in which a meaningful conversation becomes possible.

This is one good retort to Many people view memory as unimportant to deep creative work.

Related: The mnemonic medium works well for primers in established fields

Q. Why are SRMs often particularly helpful in the early stages of learning a subject?
A. In those stages, your grasp of the core terms and ideas is so wobbly that you can’t yet do anything meaningful. SRMs can accelerate you past that.

Q. Why might an SRM help you have meaningful experiences more rapidly if you’ve just started learning French?
A. It can help you more rapidly reach the point where you can have a conversation with someone in French.


Matuschak, A., & Nielsen, M. (2019, October 0). How can we develop transformative tools for thought? (see