Digital or Paper Flashcards, Which is Better

Digital or Paper Flashcards, Which is Better

2022-06-02 15:33:19

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Your job is to decide what is best for you given your individual circumstances. That’s what I’m here to help you with. In this post, I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of digital vs. paper cards, and then I’ll offer some advice on how to choose.


Now let’s get started! Should you use digital or paper flashcards?


Digital or Paper Flashcards: Opening Thoughts


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Before we look at pros and cons, I want to get one misconception out of the way. Aren’t handwritten flashcards more effective, simply because you write them out by hand? I hear this argument a lot. It is based on a truth: writing something can help you to remember it better.


But here’s the thing. You make your paper flashcard once, and you’re done. In order to get any real benefit from muscle memory, you need to be writing the same word over and over. If you are learning a language with a new writing system, I highly recommend that you do, in fact, practice writing words multiple times. But this isn’t the function of a flashcard.


Flashcards are meant as a memory aid, not as writing practice. So the brief act of creating your flashcard (whether by hand or on an electronic device) has very little bearing on the success of your studies.


The most important thing is that you make the kind of flashcards that you will use.


I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t matter if you have heaps of paper cards if you never look at them. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if you have dozens of Anki flashcard decks if you never open the app.


That said, I will now point out some practical things to take into consideration when deciding on digital or paper flashcards.




I have now referenced SRS – which stands for “spaced repetition software” – several times. If you are a flashcard newbie, you may be thinking, “What the heck is SRS and why should I care?” You should care because studies have shown that we retain information better if we space it out wisely. Cramming = bad.


The basic idea of the spaced repetition technique is that you need to review new and/or difficult flashcards more frequently than familiar and/or easier ones. Logical, right? Anki and similar programs use software to integrate the principles of spaced repetition. For example, in the Anki app, after reviewing each card you choose an option: Again, Hard, Good, or Easy. Anki decides when to show you that particular card again based on your choice.


This way you don’t spend too much time going over easy cards, and you can focus on more challenging ones. Every day, you open up Anki and see that a certain number of cards are “due”. You know that those are the cards you most need to study.


You can simulate SRS when using paper cards by dividing words into stacks based on their ease (see, for instance, the Leitner system). But this is a much greater hassle. Note also that not all online flashcard programs employ SRS. Quizlet no longer does, and if StudyBlue does, I haven’t seen any evidence of it. This is the main reason why Anki is my favorite flashcard program.


In conclusion


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