Flashcards have been used by students for over a century. And while the online versions of flashcards can be fun and engaging, several strategies can increase their effectiveness as a learning tool.
1) Have students create their own flashcards. Yes, this sounds terribly inefficient when so much content is readily available on the internet. But the process of creating the flashcards – actually typing in the content – is one of the most powerful ways to build retention. Plus, this is a good study skill for students, since learning materials won’t always be provided under the careful guidance of an instructor.
2) Use single-sided flashcards for “facts”. The “term/definition” format is most often used with flashcards, but a lot of learning doesn’t fit this template – such as notes gathered from readings. Single-sided flashcards (sometimes called “fact cards”) are ideal for content such as this:
“Adam Smith is considered the founder of capitalism and modern economics but, during his lifetime, he was foremost known as a moral philosopher.”
3) Select a flashcard app that generates multiple games from the same content. Students have unique learning styles and preferences, so use an application that creates a variety of learning games and activities from the same content. Not only does this keep things interesting, it forces the brain to solve the same problem in different ways, which results in deeper learning. A well-designed system allows learners to progress from easy games (such as matching) to more challenging ones (like fill in the blank). This helps students recognize when they’ve truly mastered the content, which is difficult to determine when only using flashcards. Here’s a good example of how the same content can appear across seven learning activities.
4) If creating content for students, consider presenting each concept in three formats: a fact, a term/definition, and a question. Similar to the previous tip, this will push the brain beyond rote memorization of a single item. For instance:
Fact: In 1969, U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.
Term/Definition: Neil Armstrong // The first man to walk on the moon (1969)
Question: Who was the first man to walk on the moon? A) Buzz Aldrin, B) John Glenn, C) Neil Armstrong, D) Yuri Gagarin
Here’s an example where all three types of content appear in a single project, allowing students to select from a range of learning activities.
5) Use a flashcard app that integrates seamlessly with your school’s learning system. Some flashcard applications require a registration and login at a third-party website. This complicates the learning process and directs students away from your school’s learning system. Many of these applications present users with advertisements and upsells, which can be distracting too. Another advantage of an integrated system is that instructors can see detailed information about which students are accessing the games and activities – all from within the learning system. This occurs without instructors or students going through a registration process. The lesson: keep it simple, keep it safe.
Online flashcards have come a long way the past decade. By following these simple guidelines, your students will have fun while they strengthen the neural pathways that improve cognitive recall. (Perhaps we just tell them it’s fun!)
StudyMate Campus makes it easy for teachers and students to create flashcards, self-assessments, and learning games. It comes bundled with Respondus LockDown Browser, which prevents students from cheating during online tests in Canvas, Schoology, Moodle, and other learning systems. Visit www.respondus.com/bundle to learn more.
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