What is it about?

When using digital flashcards—which rank among the most popular e-learning tools available today (e.g., Quizlet, Anki)—there is typically the option of making one’s own flashcards (i.e., by manually adding content) or using flashcards that have already been made by somebody else. Currently, the latter option, which is also known as pre-made flashcards, is more popular than the former option, which is also known as user-generated flashcards. Using pre-made rather than user-generated flashcards is more convenient, saves time, and takes advantage of the millions of pre-made flashcards sets that are freely available online. However, with pre-made flashcards, users miss out on learning experiences that might occur when making one’s own flashcards, and moreover, the quality of pre-made flashcards cannot be guaranteed. In this study, we investigated the learning of facts and concepts from pre-made versus user-generated flashcards. In five out of six experiments, using user-generated flashcards improved learning relative to using pre-made flashcards. These benefits were especially pronounced for flashcards made via paraphrasing or copying-and-pasting materials and were observed relative to pre-made flashcards of high and low quality.

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Why is it important?

Our research reveals that making one's own digital flashcards can trigger productive learning processes. Given a fixed amount of time, adding content to digital flashcards prior to using them is potentially more beneficial for learning than using flashcards made by someone else. This finding is important to anyone who uses digital flashcards, which are among the most popular learning tools available today.


This study exemplifies two important and related principles from the science of learning. First, the added convenience that some learning technologies offer may make things easier, but are not necessarily helpful in the long run. Second and more broadly, some learning techniques that require more effort -- and may seem onerous because they increase the chance of making mistakes, are more time consuming, and can be frustrating -- are actually more effective than other, less-onerous methods (also known as "desirable difficulties").

Steven Pan
National University of Singapore

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: User-generated digital flashcards yield better learning than premade flashcards., Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, December 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/mac0000083.
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