Monday, February 27, 2012

Improve Student Performance With Online Flashcards

English: Online LearningImage via WikipediaBy Chris Deiter

How do online flashcards differ from the traditional type?

The purpose remains the same - engage students in the material by having them create their own cards and then use this as a tool to drill with. The differences come with the technology.

Unlike some "educational kludges," that merely turn a good idea into a flashier, electronic version, online flashcards actually leverage the medium quite well. For example, virtual cards (also called "notecards") can be randomized, and a test generated from the information they contain. These multiple choice tests use information on the cards in a stress-free testing situation with just a click of a mouse button.

Other benefits:
  • Familiar environment for students; graphical interface they learn interactively - no "training curve."
  • The programs are hosted online and viewed through a browser. No compatibility issues with different computer brands or models and "always available" with an Internet connection, including school computer labs.
  • Free of charge - no economic discrimination.
  • An existing library of flashcards students can access and contribute to.
  • Same look and "feel" of physical flashcards.
  • Virtually unlimited storage for flashcard sets, organized by subject.

Educators are well aware that electronic-style games can be helpful tools, but do not give the personal interaction needed to keep students on track and motivated. In short, students do better when they aren't out on their own.

Motivation is augmented with two main features. The first is the ability to share (or cross pollinate) card sets with fellow students. They may wish to challenge their peers with a test drawn from their flashcards as well.

The second feature flows from the cloud computing aspect. Since the material is hosted and stored online, teachers can review a student's flashcards, either because they have been assigned or just to check progress. In fact, students are encouraged to share their flashcards with their instructors to make sure the information is correct and meaningful.

Assigning flashcards can come in two forms. Students can generate their own and then be graded on those, or teachers can generate a set. Flashcards written by instructors can then either act as an adjunct or the basis for a formal in-class test. It's a ready answer to the proverbial question, "What's going to be on the test?" if the core knowledge will fit on flashcards.

Rote Learning

Flashcards have gotten somewhat of a bad reputation because they seem to be structured for rote learning. While it is true that straightforward facts work well with flashcards and repetition, there is much more to the story.

For example, when a student has to create their own set of notecards (perhaps for a grade) they can only do so by engaging the material. This is a critical first step in the learning process. The act of entering information (especially if spelling and sentence structure are emphasized) adds a useful dimension.

Furthermore, memorization of critical facts shouldn't be dismissed. Having command of the basic facts of a subject then allows students to further their grasp of more complex constructs and concepts. To manipulate facts into higher level understanding, after all, first requires a command of the facts.

A final benefit of flashcards, even as a rote learning tool, is they provide a great reference and review of critical information. This alone will inspire confidence in students who otherwise may be very anxious and made learning adverse by worry.

Flashcards for assessment and the struggling student

While not designed primarily as a testing tool, a student's progress is available and an instructor-generated set of flashcards could certainly be used to measure knowledge or identify weaknesses. The nice thing about using the system this way is that students don't see it the same way as a formal test or quiz. Rather, it's closer to an online game or poll they might take for entertainment.

Another use is to allow struggling students a quick review before a physical test. Unsophisticated students may not realize the value of a quick recap of relevant information near the actual test. Because virtual notecards can be accessed wherever there is an Internet connection, they are as close as the nearest computer. Allowing a five or ten minute review time before a test can help borderline students improve their scores dramatically.


The primary purpose of online flashcards is educational, not entertainment. Those elements that make the experience friendly are designed to remove barriers to learning, not remove learning. But, like any educational tool, flashcards must be used to see any benefit.

Teachers who participate in students' use of virtual flashcards will see better results, more quickly. Parents can also help, and home computer use is a natural way for parents to oversee (or get hands on) with their children. In fact, parents often enjoy adding flashcards to a set or testing their own subject knowledge.

Make flashcards for your textbooks with Easy Notecards, a 100% FREE online flashcard tool. Includes quizzes, games, printing, sharing options and more. Easy Notecards makes learning new material fun and easy.

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