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Memrise: A Learning Engine Worth a Spin

by Jeff Cobb

Memrise

Are you hoping to learn or brush up on a foreign language in 2014?

Have you found that whenever you set out to do this in the past, it’s been hard to keep at it?

Memrise may be just the ticket for you.

I’ve been using the site for a few months now to help me improve my Spanish and I’ve found it useful enough that I thought I should mention it here as a tool that M2Learners may want to check out.

What is Memrise?

Memrise (www.memrise.com, and also available as an iPhone or Android app) is a platform that enables users to create collections of content, or “memes,” that combine textual, visual, and auditory cues. These are then published as courses into what is basically a “learning engine” that supports presenting the content to learners and repeatedly testing them on it as they progress. The site also throws in some community and competitive elements – you can “follow” other learners and see how the points you accumulate from your learning activities compare to performance of other learners.

As far as I can tell, all of the courses on Memrise are currently free, though I assume there will be a point in the future when course authors are able to charge for their creations.

Why Does It Work?

All of the above, it is important to note, is grounded in solid learning science:

  • The ability to combine audio, text, and visual content helps to stimulate multiple senses during the learning process, increasing the chances of later recall
  • The use of “memes” supports “elaborative encoding,” or drawing associations between new information or experiences and what we already know. (At least in theory: Memrise relies heavily on users to create memes, and I have found that most of them don’t seem particularly effective. I would expect this to improve over time, though, as more and more people use the system.)
  • The spaced repetition and testing of content that the site provides for is a very powerful way of supporting both initial learning and long-term retention. (Note: You can read more about both spaced learning and elaborative encoding in 5 Power Tips for Serious Lifelong Learners.)
  • Memrise displays “Leaderboards” for each course, showing the which learners have accumulated the most points through their learning activities. For many learners, these competitive and social elements may help focus attention and drive motivation – both important elements in learning.

Memrise combines all of the above into an environment that simply feels enjoyable and non-threatening – both pluses when it comes to effective learning. A “garden” metaphor is used for the learning activities. You first “plant” your garden as you engage in initial learning activities. Then you periodically “water” it, based on reminders the system generates automatically.

What’s it Good For?

As you might expect, the Memrise approach is not a fit for all types of learning, but for anything that involves memorizing lists of content it is excellent. The vocabulary memorization necessary for learning a language is an obvious fit, and it is no accident that language courses are by far the most popular on the site. (I’m currently taking Comprehensive Spanish Vocabulary and Easy Spanish Conjugation.)

But there are plenty of other uses. For example, there are a range of courses addressing common standardized test like the SAT and GRE. Other courses tackle topics like capital cities, major works of modern art, and general memory training.

All of these, again, are free, but it is worth noting that Memrise has an upgrade version that enables you to create private learning content. This could be particularly powerful because of the spaced learning and testing capabilities the platform supports. While I haven’t tried it yet, I expect that I will in the future.

So, bottom line: Memrise is worth checking out. If you do, or if you have already, please comment and share your experiences with other readers. 

Jeff

P.S. – For Spanish learners, I also cover another couple of tools in addition to Memrise over on 3 Free Online Tools to Help Parents Learn Spanish.

posted on January 9, 2014

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