Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spaced-repetition (SRS) flashcard options for teaching

While I think that studying with the Anki spaced repetition (SRS) flashcard app on a smartphone is ideal, it is often not possible to have all students doing the same thing.  Some students do not have smartphones.  And the Anki app for iPhones is approximately $25 (expensive but completely worth the money in my opinion), while the AnkiDroid app is free.  I feel that I cannot require some students to buy an expensive app while some get the equivalent for free.

One option is to have the students use the Anki website, allowing them to study from any web browsing device.  This is a functional solution to the above problems, but it is not ideal.  The Anki website is not as fast  and easy to use as the Anki app, and, if the students do not have access to the Internet (no cell phone signal or wifi), they cannot study.

As I wrote earlier about an alternative to Anki on the iDevices, I believe that another SRS flashcard app, Flashcard Elite, has potential to be a replacement for Anki.  Users can create and download flashcard decks from and study on their smartphones.  I would not recommend that students study on the Quizlet website itself because, as far as I can tell, it does not use SRS.

So, with my goal being to find a way where as many students as possible can benefit from an SRS flashcard app on a smartphone, here is my current plan for this semester:

Students without smartphones

These students will create Anki website accounts and create a deck of flashcards via the website in class once a week.  On other days, these students will work with a partner who has a smartphone.  Using their partners' smartphones, they will access their accounts via the web and then hand the smartphone back to the owners.  Those students will then quiz the non-smartphone students on their decks.

Students with Android smartphones

These students will download the AnkiDroid app to their smartphones.  Then, they will create Anki website accounts and sync (connect) accounts to the smartphone app.  After they create decks of cards via the website in class, their decks of cards will be downloaded to the smartphone app.  On other days, these students will work with a partner in the same manner above, except that the studying will be through the Anki app, not the Anki website.

Students with iPhones

These students will download the Flashcard Elite app to their smartphones.  Then, they will create Quizlet accounts and create decks of cards via the Quizlet website in class.  After that, they will access Quizlet from the Flashcard Elite app and download their decks.  On other days, these students will work with partners in the same manner above, except that the studying will be through the Flashcard Elite app.

Please understand that this is a work in progress and subject to change.  It will create more work for the teacher in terms of the logistics of teaching with SRS, but I feel it is worth the effort.

I would really appreciate any feedback about what I have proposed.  Please feel free to leave a comment or question!


  1. Hello Rich:

    I use Anki but in a different way from you i.e. no emphasis on smartphones (for just the reasons you highlighted).

    This is what I've done:
    1. Created Anki decks for each week (from the Anki downloaded to my computer)
    2. Placed these decks on the course page (we are using Moodle 2,0) for all students to access.
    3. Gave students instructions on how to download Anki to their own computers.
    4. Expect students to open the decks on the course page - that will immediately place them in their own Anki program on their own computers (from there they can choose to sync with other devices).
    5. At that point students can learn as they choose - and easily create new cards for any course for their own use.
    6. I'm also working with the course administrator to have Anki put on the student computers in case they want to use it in the computer labs/or teachers want to show it in class.

    Of course - none of this allows students the chance to create Anki cards in class (unless a teacher books a computer lab). But I think once students get to know the value of Anki - they will find it easy to create their own cards.


    1. Dear Kathy,

      Thanks for the comment! Sorry to take so long in replying.

      Where, what and who are you teaching? I'm always curious to find out what other teachers are doing.

      My first attempt sounds similar to what you are doing. However, I felt it was important to create independent users. Also, I found that they really weren't using Anki outside of the class, even though they agreed that it was a good system. Have you had any success - ie, are the students actually using Anki outside of the classroom? Are you able to track their usage?

      Is your class required or elective? I find that students who are not very motivated to learn the subject/content are not likely to use it on their own volition. That's why I spend so much time in class with modeling and pair work. I think it the only way to get them to see the effectiveness of Anki and therefore want to use it on their own/

      In regards to your #6, be careful if multiple students are using the same computer and Anki program. Decks with similar names can get all mixed up, and students logging into different Ankiweb accounts from the same Anki PC program can cause some real headaches.

      I don't know if you saw my other website,, but there are more posts specific to Anki there, as well.



      Have the s

    2. If you haven't tried the new Quizlet Live flashcard game, I highly recommend it! Here is a short article I wrote about it:

      Also, please join us at our new Mobile Assisted Language Learning Facebook page to share ideas and information:

  2. Hello Rich,

    I've been using Anki for 3 years as a power user, like yourself I find myself using it every free moment I have. I study several hours a day using Anki, every single day. Somehow I've become obsessed with the software. When your number of reviews is in the several hundreds of thousands you know you're crazy/obsessed ^^

    Also like yourself, I am using Anki to teach English in Japan, however I'm teaching privately one-on-one rather than to a large class.

    I'm curious as to how you measure the success rate of using Anki in your class. For example, are you able to cover significantly more material, or, do your students show increased ability to use vocab they've studied, etc. In other words do you have some concrete measure or results? I'm really curious if it's been as successful for you (and if so, how successful) as I would think it would be.

    From skimming both of your blogs, it seems that you get your students to study in class. I follow the opposite route I suppose. I select all the books and content I want my students to learn before class, make all their decks, and have them learn all the vocab before class on their own time. During class I practice with them by asking questions and using the vocabulary etc., and I find that their comprehension is significantly increased because they already know all the words we're using.

    I've always been on the studying end of Anki and not Teaching end, so when I quiz my students, it's like, actually kind of scary how accurately they can give the definition for a huge number of words (and lightning fast). It's almost disturbing in an unnatural way.

    At times my students get lazy/busy/both and stop studying using Anki. But since the volume of words we're studying is so huge compared to a normal class, and I often review previous chapters at random, it's impossible for them to cram the material before class so they have no other options but Anki. Also they basically understand how powerful Anki is when they can recall any word I ask them instantly. I find their accuracy rate is around ~80%

    1. Dear Yuu Raku,

      Thanks for the post! Are you teaching in Tokyo?

      Anki is part of the class process, not the whole thing, so I don't have as many chances as I would like to assess the students directly in terms of their Anki use. I am tracking their first and second semester quiz scores quite closely - similar material presented in a similar format - to see if there is a measurable difference from the Anki use.

      However, my goal isn't really to "prove" that SRS is effective. I think that has already been done by other researchers in the past. I'm more interested in how to get students to actually use Anki and, more importantly, how to get them to want to use Anki. That's the hard part. That's why I'm spending more time in class this semester, exposing them to effective use of Anki in hopes that they will see that effectiveness and want to use it on their own..

      Speaking of vocabulary, I recently learned about the General Service List (GSL) which lists English words by frequency and the Academic Word List (AWL) which is a similar one for academic words. Most Japanese students do not learn these important words in high school due to entrance exam requirements.

      A guest speaker from another Tokyo university spoke about this and shared his website with some great resources:

      You can find Excel spreadsheets with the GSL and AWL words with Japanese and simplified English definitions. They look great. I already put the first 2000 on and hope to do more with the AWL and Anki, as well as with quizlet. Maybe your students could benefit from the lists. I plan on incorporating it in my classes and introducing it to all my students.

      Well, its close to bed time for this old guy. Please write back tell my what you think or what you are up to. I'm happy to hear I'm not the only Anki teacher out there!


      Rich Bailey
      Asia University

    2. If you haven't tried the new Quizlet Live flashcard game, I highly recommend it! Here is a short article I wrote about it:

      Also, please join us at our new Mobile Assisted Language Learning Facebook page to share ideas and information:

    3. If you haven't tried the new Quizlet Live flashcard game, I highly recommend it! Here is a short article I wrote about it:

      Also, please join us at our new Mobile Assisted Language Learning Facebook page to share ideas and information:

  3. Very interesting Rich.

    I am a freelance tutor and getting into the online game to try broaden my tutoring audience. I am creating Anki Decks, albeit small ones, to use with my current face-to-face clients, but am slowly hosting them on my blog as well.

    Interestingly, I always thought Anki was free on the iPhone and was recommending it to those I tutor. None told me it cost 25$, so hopefully they didn't plunk the money down for it if they didn't feel they wanted to take their studies on the go (though I do agree, that is a great 25$ in terms of a return on investment).

    Another program you may want to try is ProProfs Quiz Maker, I've read good things about it. I am not sure if it works on mobile devices, but I'm thinking of giving it a shot and maybe including some quizzes on my blog. Hey, it never hurts to have another educational technology program to choose from!


  4. Hello, I am an Anki user, and a teacher as well. I'd like to get my students making their own SRS decks for revision, and would like to get a bit more information from someone with experience doing this. The question is: how difficult would it be for students to use Anki installed on desktop computers? Does the desktop version allow for different users to logon?

    I assume you've just used the website and ankidroid together. Is there still the problem that you can't name your own decks on ankiweb?

    Finally, do you still prefer quizlet for your iPhone users? Or has a better option come along?

    Thank you for any help you can give.

  5. Dear Jeff,

    Thanks for the post! It has prodded me to pay more attention to the blog and focus on sharing what I've learned...

    I think it is possible for students to use Anki installed on desktop computers, if they are using it simply to study and add new cards.

    However, they would always have to use the same desktop computer. Trying to use a different computer which would require snycing the Anki program to the website and downloading the decks might be too much.

    I believe the new Anki computer program allows multiple user accounts on the same computer. However, I think that to sync it to different online accounts (and therefore to mobile devices), the users must disconnect the former user and reconnect the computer to their own account. This may be quite a pain.

    I also believe that you still cannot rename decks on AnkiWeb. Damien, the creator, has said that AnkiWeb is just supposed to be a complement to the desktop program.

    However, after trying to teach my students how to use Anki for three years, I no longer think it is the most appropriate tool for the average student. Anki takes a great deal of time, patience, effort, etc. to work properly, and most of my students are not interested enough in learning English to be that committed. If you have some students that are independently motivated and very serious, then they should learn about Anki.

    I know think that a non-SRS program, such as Quizlet, is more appropriate for teaching. It is free, has a good smart phone app, more forgiving of inconsistent studying, easier to use, and has more games/study modes than Anki. Don't get me wrong; I still think Anki is the best learning tool (I use it every day), but I don't think it is the best teaching tool when dealing with the average student.

    I have been using Quizlet in my classes for the past year or so. If you want to see some of a deck I have made for students, please check this link:

    You can see other decks under my username of "richbailey"

    If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I plan on writing more about this soon.



  6. Hi Jeff,
    This is a bit late, but two things:

    1) In Anki 2 you can create multiple "profiles" which each sync to their own AnkiWeb account (and optionally protect each with a password to make it harder for other students to tamper with your decks). There's still the problem that you have to create a new profile and full download everything on each new computer you want to use, though.

    2) I'd also thought you couldn't rename decks on AnkiWeb, but I just checked and you can.

  7. Ah, now quizlet seems interesting, especially since the iOS version is free. That makes all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, I've already gotten a group of students using Ankiweb. So far they are happy with it, but most can't use it on their phones.

  8. If you have not tried Quizlet Live, I highly recommend it! My students love it, and it seems really effective. Here is a link to an article I wrote about it:

    If you want to communicate more, please join us at my new Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) Facebook group: