The mnemonic medium can help readers apply what they’ve learned through simple application prompts

The Mnemonic medium helps readers remember specific details from what they’ve read, but many readers instinctively feel that their recall may be too rigid—limited to parroting memorized answers to familiar questions. They intuit that real understanding is more fluid than that, that it should be deployable in novel situations (i.e. Transfer learning). Many readers say they know they begin to feel they understand something when they can use that understanding, practically or socially.

To really make that possible—to create an environment along the lines described in Enabling environments focus on doing what’s enabled—we’d need to make The Primer++. But we’ve already seen that Spaced repetition memory systems can be used to prompt application, synthesis, and creation, so we can take a step in that direction by extending the mnemonic medium to include simple questions which ask readers to use what they’ve learned, possibly in combination, in a novel situation. Such questions should help readers develop flexibility and build confidence in their knowledge. These questions would expand the mnemonic medium’s reach one significant level up the ladder of understanding.

For example, in addition to prompts asking the reader to recall the matrix representation of the quantum X gate, we might ask the reader to apply that knowledge by finding the output of a circuit with the X gate applied to (|0> - |1>) / sqrt(2). And then next time, we might ask the reader What is X(0.8|0> + 0.6|1>)?: Application prompts should vary when repeated.

This kind of question is good in part because it’s a very small step away from your memorized knowledge. You don’t have to strategize. You don’t have to identify the procedure to perform, and the procedure itself is trivial. You don’t have to combine lots of details in a novel way.

We deployed application prompts in Quantum mechanics distilled on Quantum Country. What we’ve found so far:

Some more complex variations of this idea:

Some questions:


Conversation with Michael Nielsen, 2019-12-30
Conversation with Michael Nielsen, 2020-01-01

Last updated 2023-07-13.