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Memrise

Site: memrise.com

Type: Education, Learning, Languages

Memrise is a learning platform for a wide variety of topics and allows its users to memorize facts and vocabulary at their own speed. The available study courses are largely community created and moderated. Every user can create custom courses, either for personal use or to be shared with others. The study material can contain text, images and audio elements to create a varied learning experience and to support faster memorization through mnemonics.

Besides the website Memrise is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices.

Currently Memrise is free to use, but premium memberships are available that presently offer advanced statistics and special learning sessions for difficult material.

Available Study Material

Memrise's course selection is categorized into eight broad sections, including the languages category. Each has a number of subsections and every course has a thumbnail and some statistics about its contents, namely the number of people taking the course and the approximate time required to finish it. Inside the courses are further descriptions and divisions from which the user can select what to learn or which items to ignore entirely. To each course also belongs a forum, where users can discuss the material or the learning process.

One of the most prominent features of Memrise is the multitude of available language courses. The most popular languages are English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Chinese. There are courses for many more languages available, from every continent and many remote islands plus some languages that are past their time, like Latin or ancient Greek, or truly out of this world, like Klingon (Star Trek) and Na'vi (Avatar). The total number of languages present is above 200.

The arts and literature section also covers film and music, theater, architecture, design, fashion and philosophy. Interested learners can indulge themselves in lists of actors, composers and painters or learn all about history or the evolution of surrealism.

Scientific topics include mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, engineering and many more. Among them are anatomy courses, multiplication and periodic tables, as well as a host of collected terminology for various fields of study.

A section titled “the natural world” covers animal and plant life as well as astronomy lessons. Courses about stars and their constellations, trees, stones, animals large and small, plants and flowers, and much more can be studied here.

The history and geography section contains worlds and country maps, study courses to learn capitals, places, politics, religion and history. If you want to memorize all countries on earth or their capitals and flags, then you will find the right courses here.

Learners striving to grow knowledge useful for their carrier will find study material in another category. Whether business facts, computing, law or medicine: find the right course here or build your own.

The entertainment category features board games, Pokémon and yoga, but really mostly Pokémon.

Finally the trivia section covers everything and anything that didn't really fit into any of the other categories. Big and small facts from all over the world have a home inside this section.

Some courses cover only a handful of specialized terms and topics, others include thousands of items. The language courses for example range from a handful of survival phrases to complete curricula from beginner to advanced mastery. There are also courses for standardized tests, like SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test), ACT (American College Testing) and GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Currently there are more than 6000 courses available to learn and the community is always creating new ones. Memrise also claims that an increasing number of classrooms in the U.S.A., the United Kingdom and the Netherlands use their platform.

Learning

The heart of Memrise is of course the learning process itself. In a spin of playfulness Memrise employs a gardening terminology and fitting graphics to symbolize the stages of learning. Unlearned items are “seeds” which are “planted” by learning them. Once an item is considered in long term memory it is “grown” and the repetitions to keep them memorized are termed “watering”. In this fashion a garden of memories is grown.

When new items are learned they are first presented to the user with all the attached information and media snippets. In case of a single foreign language word that might include gender, word category and a spoken sample for correct pronunciation. Other items might be complete example sentences in a language, countries on a map or other graphics with accompanying information. Sometimes further information is available at the click of a “more” label, this is usually data that is not tested actively during the course but serves as optional background information.

The 'next' button then brings up another new item or tests a previously shown. There are a number of different test types employed by the system that ramp up in difficulty. The simplest are multiple choice tests with four possible answers. The next higher are multiple choice with six or more answers, sentence puzzles with given pieces (for language example sentences) and finally free typing tests without any hints. The sentence puzzles are an interesting concept to aid language learners with the general grammatical structure of a foreign language, but users who want to skip this test type altogether can disable them in the user profile options.

In the upper right corner a countdown clock is running during each test, the alloted time is very generous though and once you have started typing an answer it slows down. A test can also be paused at any time by clicking the button in the upper left corner.

After going through the easier tests a couple of times Memrise will always use the free typing test unless the learner makes mistakes. Then the easier tests are used again until the item has been memorized well enough to be tested with free typing. Since the difficulty is tracked separately for every learning item, the learner gets eased into remembering even relatively difficult items on a case by case basis.

If a course requires the input of special characters, like umlauts or accented letters, Memrise shows a visual keyboard below the typing area, where characters can be added per mouse click. It does accept the “plain” forms of letters as correct answers though, e.g. if a French test expects “très”, the form “tres” is accepted too. This proves useful to get through a learning session more quickly, as picking letters on-screen or using key-combos for a foreign language layout can considerably slow down one's typing speed.

One more very important function is “auto-ignore” on the level overview of a course. This goes through all the items and puts everything on ignore that you have already studied in another course, it can take a couple of minutes though for Memrise to go through their database. This way overlapping content doesn't get in the way.

Mems

On Memrise users can create visual memory cues, mnemonics that are called “mems”. The general idea of mems is to connect question and answer of the item to be remembered in one way or another. This can be a simple reminder sentence, a drawing, a photo with text or even a video. This way of learning often leads to faster and stronger memorization than rote learning by repetition alone.

At any time during learning new or repeating established material, there is a “help me remember this” button that opens the mem area. Here the mems created by other users for the current item are shown and if one of them is to your liking you can use it too. If you wish you can upload images and create your very own mem, this also nets you points. For hard-to-remember things it's worthwhile to experiment with this. Quite often the more unusual and personal mnemonics work best to successfully help retain a piece of information.

Once a mem has been chosen or created it will be shown with the learning item in question every time you fail to answer it correctly. If a mem doesn't really work as intended, it can be deleted or a new one can be created.

Repetition

To retain information in long term memory it's necessary to repeat it from time to time. To that end Memrise uses ”spaced repetition”.

There is a lot of cognitive science behind that concept, that deals with the optimal scheduling and the qualification of the memorization state of any piece of knowledge. Experiments have shown that the best time to repeat something is shortly before it's forgotten, this gives the strongest boost to long term retention. The time intervals at which something needs to be practiced again grow after each successful repetition, starting with mere hours and going up to many years. Also actively recalling information, with a question and hidden answer, works better than just passively looking at something that needs to be remembered.

So Memrise schedules all your learned items to be practiced again (watered) at intervals calculated separately for each. As mentioned before this reschedule presumably happens towards the end of the assumed memory lifetime of each item. Because of this it's a good idea to study as regularly as possible. For best long term effects it's better to learn each day for a short period, than hours at a time every once in a while.

The other welcome effect of the increasing intervals is that you don't get annoyed by too often repeating things you already know fairly well. This and the different testing types create a relatively smooth learning experience. That's not to say it makes learning effortless, there is certainly a good amount of will and patience required, especially for learning languages, but Memrise goes a long way towards reducing the friction.

Memrise claims to pour serious effort into their scheduling logic to optimize the learning process. The platform's two co-founders give some credit to that claim. The CEO and co-founder, Ed Cooke, is a Grand Master of Memory, participated in several World Memory Championships and wrote a book on the topic of memorization. The other Memrise co-founder, now scientific consultant, Greg Detre, is a neuroscientist specializing in the workings of memory.

The Dashboard

The website's dashboard is the central place where you start your studies and organize what you are learning. At the very top are links to go premium, browse the full course selection, create a new course and access your profile and its settings. In the blue bar are a number of stats, like your current rank, followers, the total number of items you have learned and your total learning points.

On the left side are tabs to access all active courses you are learning, those you are teaching, all the mems you have used or created, and the leaderboard.

On the home tab, are your pinned courses. A course is automatically pinned here when you start learning it, this give quick access to it, shows your progression for the individual course and allows to repeat only due items belonging to a single course (in contrast to the separate watering section). “Overwatering” is also possible here, which means repeating items before they are considered due for repetition by the system. By default at most three courses get pinned at once, but in the profile options is a setting to increase the number. Once you have learned all items of a course you are interested in, it makes sense to unpin it to free space for new courses. Items from unpinned courses are of course still in the active learning rotation.

In the watering section below appear the categories you need to repeat with the number of items scheduled for repetition. All scheduled items from all courses in a particular category are cumulated here. Say you are learning two French courses at the same time, then the due items will be included in watering sessions started here. By default a maximum of 25 items is included in a single repetition round, this number can be increased in the user options too.

Then you have an area with suggestions for people to follow. Hovering over one of the profiles reveals their points and rank. The suggestions seem to be tailored to contain users who are more or less equal to you own progress, which makes sense given that the foremost use of following people is to compete with them for points on the leaderboards.

At the bottom is the leaderboard yet again and course suggestions based on what you are currently learning.

Points, Ranks and Leaderboards

Memrise has leaderboards, global and per course, where you compete with people you are following or with the other participants of a course. If you thrive on competition and like to see your name raising on lists it's a good idea to add friends or follow top performers in your courses.

The points acquired form learning, repetitions and creating mems bestow ranks on the users that are indicated by special titles and icons. If others use mems created by you, you get points too. A study round usually yields between a few hundred and a few thousand points, depending on the number of items and the learner's performance. Bonus points are awarded for getting several questions right in a row and for the overall percentage of right answers at the end.

Memrise Points and Equivalent Ranks

Points Rank
0 Membryo
500 Member
2,000 Memdicant
5,000 Memorandom
10,000 Memtor
25,000 Mempee
50,000 Memsahib
75,000 Memgineer
100,000 Memonimee
150,000 Memblem
250,000 Memmoth
500,000 Memocrat
1,000,000 Membrain
2,500,000 Memonist
5,000,000 Membassador
10,000,000 Meminence
50,000,000 Memperor
100,000,000 Overlord

Community

Memrise thrives on its community involvement because the creation of new courses is mainly driven by enthusiasts and volunteers. Sadly the global forum, usually the center of discussion and feedback for any community, is pretty minimalistic in features and comfort alike. There are only two sections: “General Discussion” and “Course Ideas”. Neither offers anything past a list of threads sorted by most recent post.

Memrise would be well advised to implement some features considered bare standard on other discussion boards, for example a search function, sorting options, tagging and subsections. This would go a long way toward improving discourse and finding useful information. The course specific forums are a good idea though, this keeps the specialized questions right where they belong.

Personal messages aren't available as of now, but are being considered for future implementation.

Course Creation

The courses draw their contents for databases called dictionaries or wikis. The wikis are free for everyone to use, that means if you want to create a course for a topic that already has a wiki, you can use the existing data. Again this is especially useful for language courses, where the creator of a new course can draw from big pools of word pairs, grammatical definitions, recorded audio, many examples and mems. Other course types accordingly have data pairings fitting to their subjects.

Selecting a category upon initial course creation automatically enables use of the associated wiki, this makes the process of creating a new course for a popular category relatively fast. Populating the course can be done either one item at a time or by importing a list. Memrise then automatically connects each entry with the matching wiki entry, entries without matching data can be easily completed manually. Alternatively a course can be created without using an existing wiki, in this case you obviously have to supply every bit of content yourself. The wiki for such courses can be freely adjusted with custom tables and fields.

Courses are divided into levels and it makes sense to keep the number of items in each within a range that allows the learner to complete a level within a reasonable time frame. Furthermore grouping the items into thematically related levels improves learning efficiency.

There is also the possibility to create so called “Multimedia Levels” that don't test the learner but simply present information. They can contain text as well as images, videos and slideshows. If a course requires additional explanations, e.g. grammar or learning directions, this is the place to put them.

The “Details” area allows to describe a course and make it public. Private courses can still be shared with others by providing their URL, an internal invitation function is apparently in the works.

Last but not least there is a template available for “Hacking” courses which supposedly presents a more scientific and data driven approach to language learning. Said template contains a selection of words and sentences that course creators can translate into another language and allegedly make for a good start into a language.

Summary

Memrise is a good platform to learn and memorize information. It has a strong focus on language learning and for a good reason, the art of mastering a foreign language requires familiarity with a lot of information, first and foremost vocabulary. That's not to say that's it can't be used for almost any other topic as well, it's course creation tools are already flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of study content.

Memrise's use of spaced repetition is not new in itself and has been implemented in numerous other programs and platforms before, but in combination with the community driven creation of study material and the free common databases (wikis) for learning information, it has a lot going for it. Learning is made relatively painless by the various test types and the smart scheduling of repetitions. Additionally the gardening thematic and the competitive elements lend Memrise a taste of cheerfulness, that might appeal to folks of all age groups.

Currently the website and (almost) all courses are free to use, hopefully Memrise can successfully monetize the platform through premium memberships, and maybe institutional cooperations, to fuel continuous development and assure long term survival of the project. There are still some rough edges, but Memrise has the potential to become a big player in online learning.

Education | Language_and_Linguistics | Learning | Non-Fiction | Companies


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