It’s been around for quite a while, making an impressive boom in especially the language learning community, but how great is it really? Today we’re looking into Anki, the intelligent flashcard software.
The Digital Flashcard
Flashcards are a very traditional and somewhat old school way of learning – you keep a card with a question on the front and the answer on the back, and use it to test yourself. Especially language students frequently use these to learn glossary or grammar, but it’s also used to some degrees in basically all fields of learning.
Anki, which was first launched in 2006, is marketed as the ultimate flashcard software, offering digital versions of these classic cards alongside a number of features which come with this digital world. You can either pick one of the crowd generated decks of cards or make one yourself, add it into the free software (available both for desktop and mobile on all major operative systems), and start learning. If you choose a deck for learning French you’re presented with fronts such as “bonjour”, and you can then enter the English equivalent (“hello”) to succeed on that card.
What differentiates digital software like Anki from the physical counterpart is mainly the ability for the software to judge when you need to go back to an old card. If you do well on “bonjour” several times in a row, it only shows up again after several weeks. If you keep failing one card, it keeps showing up until you get it.
The thing I love the most about Anki has to be its smart calculation of when a card is needed to keep it fresh in your mind, as well as their excellent settings and statistics which makes it easy to control what you learn and see how you’re doing. Anki is seemingly most used for language, but brands themselves as “content-agnostic” – as they allow for use of both pictures, sounds, and scientific markup, it’s possible to use Anki to study math, science, literature, art, or whatever you want.
Anki is excellent at being very available. At first I downloaded it on my Linux computer, and then I got it on my Windows machine, and they synchronize perfectly with each other regardless of which computer I use. I’ve also installed the software on both my phone on my tablet, and it’s great to be able to study on the go. The mobile layout makes it extremely easy to navigate with a single finger, which makes it an excellent distraction on the subway or for that matter while walking.
No system is perfect, even though Anki is pretty close. I’ve unfortunately suffered from a crash on my computer deck which made me lose a week of work, but that’s something you can elude simply by making backups once in a while. The settings can also be rather confusing at first, especially when you try to create your first deck and want to use sounds, pictures, or markup. Fortunately, Anki offers thousands of crowd generated decks available for free download, so it’s always possible to start out with those before trying your own deck.
All in all, Anki is without a doubt the best flashcard software I’ve tried, and it’s one of my absolute favorite learning tools out there – definitely worth a try if you’re into learning lots of stuff on the go. However, if you prefer something you can actually hold in your hands, then check out our piece on 3D printing 😉