Anki in schools

Anki is limited to the individual, independent, self-disciplined learner. Opening Anki to school systems would expand Anki use a thousand-fold but requires a rewiring of the current Anki mindset. The primary user paradigm becomes the teacher/classroom.
A few initial ideas to whet the imagination:

  1. Distributing a deck toi the entire class in a single operation
  2. Seeing overall class statistics in a single operation
  3. Gamification
    I’ve put together more on the topic. Would like to hear if there is interest from the developer community.
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Hi! Great ideas! I have a very strong desire to see spaced-repetition gain a foothold in formal education. The current culture is quite averse to anything that smells like “rote” memorization, and I think that at least in mathematics (which is the only subject I’m remotely qualified to talk about, unfortunately), this has become harmful to students.

“A good stock of examples, as large as possible, is indispensable for a thorough understanding of any concept, and when I want to learn something new, I make it my first job to build one.”
Paul Halmos

There is nothing quite like knowing a ton of examples to deepen one’s understanding, and you can’t really “know” examples without having them somewhere in your head.

Which of these points do you think is most critical? I’ve seen quite a lot of work on (3) over the years, and if you google “Anki gamification”, you’ll see a lot of good stuff in the addon community.

Unless you need bidirectional collaboration or functionality for merging updates, the existing way of doing things is pretty slick for (1). You email them a .apkg file. They download Anki. They double click the file. Done.

In my opinion, (2) is kind of a trivial problem. You could dump a lot of hours into making a pretty web app, but the stats are available through the Anki API. One could write a very bare-bones addon in about a day that dumps the data into google drive or something.

Here are some related posts:

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Long winded ramble. Let’s make it simple:
Anki works, period. Everyone here agrees on that but it requres proper decks aligned with the learning material and self-discipline to persist with daily practice, something not found in schools.
Our challenge therefore is to get the kids into a regimine of daily Anki practice with those appropiate decks. Look no further than the proven success in medical school studies
not taking lighly the difficulties in applying the medical school model to K-12 education. Will expound more on that elsewhere but no need for long winded philosophying. If the results aren’t glowing either the kids are not practicing or the decks aren’t suitable.

I beg to differ with you on a few points.

  1. Anki in its current state is not made for classes and teachers. Teachers, overburdened as it is won’t touch something requiring messy administration tasks such as installing programs and addons, distributing decks, wading through each student’s individual statistics, etc. with a ten foot pole, An easy to use web based application with interface to CMS on the level of the myriad apps out there without spaced repetition is a bare minimum.
  2. Teachers by and large will not invest time or effort into developing decks, The solution is to sprout a commercial marketplace for quality content providers whose decks accompany authorized textbooks.
  3. With all due respect (and I mean that seriously) to those who have provided gamification addons, fine for motivated, self-disciplined learners, they don’t come anywhere near scratching the surface of the level of gamification in K-12 commercial offerings. Here too, the gargantuan potential of the K-12 market should be the impetus for commercial initiatives hosting Anki with competative gaming front ends.
    This entails a multipronged effort consisting of educational strategies and curriculum scheduling on the one hand and software development adapting Anki to schools on the other hand while providing quality out-of-the-box decks. Not easy, Needs serious brainstorming but definitely doable.
    P.S. I have ideas for both educational strategy ideas and webifying Anki without altering the code
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You realize medical students are essentially peak human when it comes to intelligence, motivation, ambition, and most importantly discipline. Applying conclusions derived from a sample of that population to the population at large would not be meaningful at all.

That’s an awfully high bar for evidence. If bad results are not sufficient to show this method is ineffective, what on earth is?

I think Anki is great, but liking something is very different from being statistically confident that it is effective. I am highly suspicious of the claim that “Anki works, period”, and I think perhaps a lot of others here would share my doubts.

You seem pretty gung-ho about commercialization. Do you think that, in general, things created by independent communities are usually made better or worse when companies and money become involved?

Also, on the subject of “quality content providers”, K-12 textbooks are dreadfully bad, to the point of having tons of flat-out wrong information when it comes to the hard sciences. Even a lot of undergraduate-level textbooks are quite bad, but not nearly as bad as things made for younger students. Graduate-level textbooks and monographs (at least the popular ones), however, tend to be pretty well-written across the board, in my field. I think it is not unreasonable to ask whether this has something to do with the incentives of the authors. Higher-level stuff has the smallest audience, and the authors stand to make little-to-no money off their work. They even sometimes lose money in publishing their stuff. On the other side of the spectrum, grade school textbooks are written by companies who do not know the subjects well, but stand to make a boatload selling to large school systems in high volumes. There’s an interesting story about Feynman discovering just how slimy this world is.

The people who make decks right now pretty much just do it for themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if the median quality of an Anki deck dropped significantly as a result of involving ‘quality content providers’.


My opinion: Points number 1 and 2 would be helpful, but wouldn’t necessarily be enough to make Anki a great idea in the classroom.

100%, we should teach kids about spaced repetition and the forgetting curve, when to use it and when to not. But Anki in particular doesn’t beat out physical cards + a Leitner box when you’re first learning how to memorize things.

Reasons why I think physical cards + a Leitner box are a better place to start:

Anki doesn’t have a WYSIWYG editor for cards. Learning HTML shouldn’t be a prerequisite to making engaging, well-formatted cards.

When they’re physical cards, you have to make sure this is information you want to memorize, and that it’s important enough to physically make a card for it. Unimportant information in Anki is bad.

You’re forced to think more about what you want to put on each card, which will help with learning how to make good cards, and what is and isn’t good on a flashcard, and learn the difference between things that are good to memorize via flashcards (vocabulary), and things that can be supported by memorization but can’t be done with flashcards alone (problem solving skills).

You can understand the spacing better. So many people try to control the spacing in Anki so it’s not spaced repetition. This way you get a better understanding of what Anki would be doing for you, why it would do that, and how the spaced repetition helps.

In a classroom setting, it’s possible (if you have a small amount of money/support from the school) to supply materials for every kid to make a Leitner box and to make flashcards. A lot of kids don’t have a desktop computer, or a smartphone of their own, or if they do it’s an iPhone.

Once you’ve learned how to memorize things and how spaced repetition is helpful, then getting software to schedule the repetition for you is good! But in a school context, I don’t think Anki is there yet. Some of these things are fixable within Anki, like getting a WYSIWYG editor, but I don’t think the other things are easily solvable.

Very interesting

Thanks to all who have been providing stimulating answers and criticism. Enlarging the community of educators/parents is a necessary foundational step for advancing Anki’s use in K-12 schooling.

Anki isn’t a replacement for teachers and rote memorization is not an educational goal in itself. A tight web of itemized facts however is a prerequisite internalize higher level concepts. For example, memorizing the multiplication table which many school children no longer do because of calculators with the ensuing loss in acquiring higher level skills. See this article. Multiplication is but one small example. The same can be applied in acquiring skills in many fields. I’m an English teacher in Israel teaching English as a foreign language. Vocabulary is another example of that tight web of facts without which student’s progress is hampered. Anki is an indespensible tool in acheiving greatly accelerated acquisition with guaranteed long term retention vs the low acquisition rate and high rate of loss to forgetting without Anki. And that at a markedly reduced investment in teaching time and effort. Practice sessions need be no longer than 15 minutes a day.

Regarding criticsm (greatly appreciated), please read my last post again in which the challenge is stated clearly. Kids can be motivated to practice daily. One of the goals of this thread is to encourage discussion on developing and improving the models for such.

Key ideas and insights:

Start small and work up from there. The key challenge here is to maintain the daily routine. Two or three of those sessions could be in class with two or three as homework.

In-class is a waste of valuable teaching time. A teacher isn’t required for Anki practice.

Teachers won’t change their teaching style and neither do we want them to. Anki meets education into a set-in-stone real life environment. That’s why comments raised here about the low quality of textbooks are irrelevant. That’s what teachers use and will continue using. The aim of this thread is to incorporate Anki in order to assure long term retention of what is taught. See Kang, 2016.

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Thanks for the comments and criticsm.
Anki works, period” means that whatever is in the decks that are practiced on a daily basis is retained. The glowing results are from the Anki decks. I’m not saying anything about students performance on material outside of Anki. Again, I recommend reading Kang’s paper.
Quality decks in this context are decks which reinforce what’s taught in the textbook. We’re not out to change the teaching profession or the quality of materials that teachers use. That may or may not happen in the next coming centuries. Anki is good at what it does best but schools won’t use it in it’s current state because of burdensome administration tasks and lack of read-made decks aligned with the textbooks. The textbooks may be mediocre but that’s what’s in use. Who wouldn’t agree that retaining what’s taught is preferable to the currently deplorable state of losing much of what is taught?

I don’t agree. Medical school student or even doctors are not that smarter than the average person. Look at what they study it’s not really that complex it’s just a lot. The saying goes medical school is like drinking from a fire hose

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I see that as limation as how our current classes our structured. And the use of anki in such setting

I think it would be hard to argue that the average medical student is not more conscientious than the average human in the same age group, if for no other reason than raw selective pressure.

I’d some discussion with others a little time ago who were interested in using Anki in education.

I’d made the Anki Script addon as a proof of concept - I hope that it may give you some more ideas. It should have some proper WYSIWYG editing added, but that was beyond a proof of concept. In my mind’s eye I’d use a pre sync ito post results to a separate pupil progress monitoring program run on the school computer, and to receive any updates to the student’s deck decided on by that program. Any such program would have to allow the teacher to manage students individually or in groups, as required by their own policy.

The addon was devised so that the semantic model presented to the student could be developed over time without affecting scheduling of already learnt cards - sharing decks cannot do that.

In reality using a pre-sync hook is not ideal as that would not catch reviews done on mobiles using AnkiDroid - what is really required is for Anki to support the idea of a server side addon.

I hope that this helps.

Very interesting. I want to look into it further. My vision (shared by others). goes much beyond. It entails using Anki as one of the so-easy-to-use, student-appealing web-based EdTech apps (take Quizlet for example) but which guarantees long-term retention through Spaced Repetition.

You are missing my point, which is that conclusions drawn from data procured from that group almost certainly cannot be applied to another group, especially the population at large. Put another way, because Anki increased the test scores of medical students, does NOT mean it will increase the test scores of high school students. You have to establish that the groups are similar, which it is not by default/assumption.

Also, not tryna be elitist or anything, but, from my anecdotal experience, doctors are not just smarter but WAY smarter than the average person. I know this can probably offend the egalitarian idealism prevalent in many cultures, but denying reality doesn’t necessarily help draw valid conclusions. But this last paragraph is mostly a tangential rant to the conversation at hand, so ignore. I just found the idea that the average person is anywhere close to a physician in intelligence to be prima facie silly.


Also, not tryna be elitist or anything, but, from my anecdotal experience, doctors are not just smarter but WAY smarter than the average person.

Probably, but I wouldn’t say they’re exactly the brightest bulbs coming out of academia/postgrad education, and they’re certainly a class or two below research medical professors, which is the source from which the medical establishment derives its credibility. I think “peak human” is a bit of an overstatement.

You are missing my point, which is that conclusions drawn from data procured from that group almost certainly cannot be applied to another group, especially the population at large. Put another way, because Anki increased the test scores of medical students, does NOT mean it will increase the test scores of high school students. You have to establish that the groups are similar, which it is not by default/assumption.

What you are missing is that it’s not just the point that anki improved test scores in medical students. It’s that the techniques anki uses Active Recall and Spaced Repetition have been proved to be effective in multiple studies. There is no reason why to expect such tools not to work for a different population.

We don’t have to get into long discussions here. Sufficient to say that daily Anki practice of the relevant material in high schools is a hundred times better than the current situation in which there is no Spaced Repetition or little repetition at all. Kang is right on.