One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those moments of procrastination when we're idling in front of our computer screens. What if instead of tabbing over to the web browser in search of some nugget of gossip or news, or opening up a mindless game such as Angry Birds, we could instead scratch the itch by engaging in a meaningful activity, such as learning a foreign language?
Joshua Foer 1
Our high-tech, highly privileged society has donned us with many on-demand educational resources. Unfortunately, it seems that most of these "online classes" and web apps aren't innovating much past the good old flash card system. What Foer has set us up with in the above quote, is exactly what Memrise aims to accomplish – the effective gamification of learning. The Guardian article explains it in greater detail, but the short of it is that Cognitive Psychologists and Developers have worked together to build a platform of elaborate encoding, intelligent testing, and a themed game that encourages users to return to their lessons.
On memrise you:
Plant the seed – learn a set of things for the first time
Harvest* – Review the above set
[repeats until complete] – Reviewing again any item that you faltered on in previous review
Water your plant – After the memory sits for a while, you have to go back and review it once in a while to keep it "alive" and fresh
*more like germinating the seed, but I suppose "harvest" is easier.
Because Memrise knows what words you already know – plus exactly how well you know them – and what words you haven't yet got a handle on, its algorithm tests you only on the information just at the edge of your knowledge and doesn't waste time forcing you to overlearn memories that you've already banked in your long-term garden.1
I have a personal goal to at least know a little bit of Japanese before I visit Japan and I've been taking these courses:
Beyond a plethora of language courses, you could cram Math, Geography, History, and even Art knowledge into your head with their reasonably broad selection of user-created courses. It's going well for me so far, and the biggest weak point for me is remembering to come back to the site and practice, but I think that is part habit and part setting up reminders. I don't receive the reminder emails that Memrise mentions when signing up, but after writing this, I'm going to attempt to be more diligent.
1. How I Learned a Language in 22 Hours [Gaurdian]