The Role of Flashcards

I want to reconsider how flashcards are conceived.

Outside of memorising information—their primary purpose—one other purpose of flashcards could be to serve as reflective prompts. Flashcards could also be expanded to include more interactive elements beyond their conventional buttons. How can flashcards become more interactive beyond answering a prompt for certainty of information remembered using a set of buttons? How could they be used to develop the information further, and to also help us reflect on ourselves?

Flashcards began as paper flashcards. A simple index card with two sides, with squiggles on either. The traditional paper flashcard wasn’t interactive, but we live in a software world now. We have digital flashcards. The concept has expanded, but only to meet that primary purpose above, and only with a rigid set of interactive software elements. l think flashcards could be used for more purposes, and we could expand their interactivity too.

In RemNote, would there be multiple new Rem-flashcards beyond the current set (Q&A, Close, List, Set), or a way to create a template for these flashcards with different interactive elements (ie. power-ups)?

An example I’d find useful: include a slider power-up on a Cloze flashcard to gauge it’s relative “completeness”. Completeness could be any metric: epistemic certainty for factual information, confidence for predictive claims of the future. They could be used as a one-time visual indicator, or as a constant reflection as where you’re at as you grow more knowledgeable. If I create an important flashcard, it is never fully realised when I create it. With a slider on the flashcard, each time it surfaces I’d consider new ways to develop it. Can I connect this card to others? Can it be applied in other scenarios? How is this information to be elaborated? moves slider up-to 20%

Another example: include a field for a journal-like log power-up for Cloze flashcards. A place to append notes each time you see the flashcard. Let me write a note underneath it each time. “This information can be objected in two ways. Ensure to develop these objections.”

Next flashcard.

The insight is something akin to, flashcards are the unit of information for SR algorithms. And they contain your information, but they don’t have to be restricted to just text, images and buttons, to just asking you whether you can recall information from memory. To just being static, read-only. We could use them to incrementally develop the chunks of information on our flashcards, by journalling about them, representing metrics about them. Flashcards can make the information dynamic_—growing and changing chunks of information, in multi-modal interactive ways, serving our memory but also our metacognitive skills.

Flashcards can be conceived in other ways. Let’s help reimagine them.


You might be interested in this section of Andy Matuschak’s flashcards guide. Or his (and Michael Nielsen’s) more broad work on the mnemonic medium (I won’t even attempt to link a specific section)

Some people have been using tree-themed emojis ( :seedling: :herb: :evergreen_tree:) to denote a tier of note. I would argue that a proper flashcard should be small enough to never warrant anything past the lower tiers, but notes can be categorised in oh so many ways (chase down the links if you wish for some more).

This is already implemented: you can write any ole shit into the “message” descriptor that pops up once you mark a rem as Edit Later. You can also have some prompts/choices for that message, as shown.

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