Spaced repetition memory prompts should connect and relate ideas

When using a Spaced repetition memory system to learn facts, the naive approach leads to learning a lot of facts in isolation: the name of a protein, the date of an event, the size of a physical constant. But because Rich understanding is about connection, it’s better to relate these facts to other ideas. This will both help you remember more reliably (due to Elaborative encoding) but also help you develop a richer understanding that goes beyond simple facts.

Michael gives this good example in Augmenting Long-term Memory:

For instance, it’s possible to try to remember as an isolated fact that 1962 was the year the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar, was put into orbit. But a better way of remembering it is to relate that fact to others. Relatively prosaically, you might observe that Telstar was launched just 5 years after the first Soviet satellite, Sputnik. It didn’t take long to put space to use for telecommunications. Less prosaically – a richer elaboration – I personally find it fascinating that Telstar was put into orbit the year before the introduction of ASCII, arguably the first modern digital standard for communicating text. Humanity had a telecommunications satellite before we had a digital standard for communicating text! Finding that kind of connection is an example of an elaborative encoding.

Related: Evergreen notes should be densely linked.

Charlie Munger:

“Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back.If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered.Well, they fail in school and in life.”


Nielsen, M. (2018). Augmenting Long-term Memory.