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Vocabulary box with colored tabs in the classic form
Wandering cards through the boxes
Schematic representation of a flash card box with 5 compartments
Here is the electronic form: Special exercise modes should enable playful learning: "Vocabulary Memory" from gnuVocabTrain

The learning card index is a tool for systematic learning . For this purpose, a keyword (e.g. vocabulary , date, etc.) is written on the front of a card and the solution (the fact that is to be learned) on the back. With the help of several subjects, it is possible to repeat exactly the facts that have not yet been internalized. There is also flash card software .

An example: three compartments: 1, 2 and 3. Initially, all cards are in compartment 1. The cards in compartment 1 are repeated daily, the cards in compartment 2 every second day and the cards in compartment 3 every fourth. For each learning process, all cards from compartment 1, half of the cards from compartment 2 and a quarter of the cards from compartment 3 are selected at random. If the solution of an index card is correctly recognized the first time it is presented, it is inserted into the next compartment at the back. If the solution was not known when the first submission was made, it does not move to the next one, but back to the very front in compartment 1.Independent of the move to other subjects for the next learning cycle, the selected cards are re-presented in the current learning process until you master it.

This system was developed by Sebastian Leitner , who introduced it in 1973 in his key work, Learning to Learn (today's title: This is how you learn to learn ). It is based on the spaced repetition effect, according to which content that is learned over a longer period of time is better retained in the memory than content that is intensively repeated in a short time.


Scheme of a flashcard

Compared to the example above, the basic scheme shows that you can of course use more than three subjects. The principle is always the same: the card with the answer that you know when you first present it goes into the next compartment. All others come back to the very first subject.

The query algorithm thus contains the following steps:

  • Index cards to be learned for the current query are selected from the subjects
  • Each selected tab initially has the status "not yet queried"
  • The selected index cards are queried until the candidate has mastered all selected index cards. Depending on the query result, the status of the tab changes:
    • Cards that have once been given the status “not known”
      • remain in the query until the candidate knows the answer
      • do not change their status "not known" in the course of the further query and go to compartment 1 at the end of the query
    • Cards with the status "not yet queried"
      • go to the next subject and are removed from the further query if the candidate knows the answer
      • remain in the query and receive the status “did not know” if the candidate does not know the answer

In order for an index card to move to the next subject, the candidate must know the answer when it is presented for the first time. There should be enough time (at least 8 hours) between queries so that the subject assignment fulfills its purpose.

In contrast to the picture shown above, it makes sense to make the compartments of different lengths. The first compartment is very small (20 to 30 index cards), the second compartment a bit larger, the third a bit larger than the second, etc.

application areas

In addition to vocabulary, you can also learn other content with a flashcard:

theme Question (front) Answer (back)
vocabulary encyclopedia encyclopedia (American) / encyclopaedia (British)
Concrete dates Year of the Habeas Corpus Act 1679
Formulas Pythagorean theorem
Driving license rules (example) What special obligations does the skipper have to observe? a. Follow regulations; b. Ensure the safety of the crew
Crossword puzzle questions Hamburg folk actor with six letters, last name: _ L _ _ _ S Albers
Definitions Define "logistics" Business sub-area that deals with the flow of goods (and the associated information) within the company.
Outlines Subdivide "logistics" 1. Procurement logistics, 2. Production logistics, 3. Distribution logistics
Assertions - single choice or true / false questions Frankfurt am Main is the state capital of Hesse Wrong, right would be the city of Wiesbaden.
Which belong to the German federal states? a. Hamburg; b. Lübeck; c. Saarland; d. Mecklenberg-West Pomerania a. and c. right, b. is a city in Schleswig-Holstein, d. does not exist at all (but instead Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)
Chores card Read Chapter 4 in Textbook XY. (Back unlabeled)

A single, folded A4 page, the content of which has to be repeated, can also be accommodated in an A6 index card system.

Chain sets
map front back
1. Beginning of “Ritter Fips and his other end” by Heinz Erhardt ? On the parapet of his castle stood the knight Fips in full armor
2. On the parapet of his castle stood the knight Fips in full armor Then he heard noise from below and said to himself: "I'll have a look"
3. Then he heard noise from below ... (etc.) ...
... ... ...
latest And now the entire poem! "Ritter Fips and his other end" by Heinz Erhardt? (e.g. a folded sheet of paper with the entire text of the poem)


For the most recently selected question and answer positions, it makes sense not to choose index cards that are too small. The DIN-A6 format does quite well here. For vocabulary, DIN A8 is recommended because of its compatibility with most of the vocabulary trainers and vocabulary boxes offered in industry.

Advantages and ambivalences of the method

Advantages of the method are that long-term retention is particularly encouraged and the user also gets a good feeling for how high their own level of knowledge is (especially helpful for exam anxiety). In doing so, those index cards that have not yet been learned are increasingly touched, thus avoiding idle times (e.g. in comparison to the classic vocabulary book). Compared to flash card software, there is the advantage that flash cards can be taken anywhere, even in smaller quantities, and can be more durable than electronic devices, making them more suitable for extensive learning projects (e.g. in-depth learning of a language). In practical use, the efficiency of the method can be increased if one learns with several senses, i. H. not only viewed the front and back, but also pronounced the vocabulary out loud.

A characteristic of this learning method is that it makes certain demands on the work discipline of the learner and requires a certain amount of work, which seems to contradict the playful approach of the process. It should not be forgotten, however, that the remaining workload is considerably less than that of traditional vocabulary learning. Again and again the method seems to arouse the expectation at first glance that it is the much sought-after Nuremberg funnel , where the learner can remain in complete passivity and hope for great learning success.

For the learner, this results in certain motivational ambivalences that he must overcome in order to be successful:

  • It is advisable to use them regularly in order to achieve long-term learning success. Long breaks between learning units ruin the success of the box hierarchy. Only when a card has left the last box can it be considered "learned". The required learning discipline is therefore comparable to that of athletic muscle building.
  • The in-house production poses a further challenge. By creating the vocabulary cards (or entering them into a vocabulary learning program), preparation for the learning process takes place, which can be seen as an important part of the method. If you use ready-made cards from the trade or ready-made vocabulary files, or if you leave self-written cards lying around for too long before the start of learning, this warming-up effect fizzles out. Of course, there are vocabulary boxes and ready-made vocabulary cards for languages ​​for sale in stores, and there are also offers for the basics of business administration (as of December 22, 2013).
  • After all, the learning (index) cards have to be created very carefully, otherwise mistakes will be learned later if they are not noticed (if they are noticed during learning, however, they even increase the learning effect!). However, the care taken in creating the material also makes a positive contribution to the preparatory "warm-up phase" before the actual learning.

Compared to the flash card as software, there is of course the disadvantage that several card boxes take up space that files do not need.

Computer implementation / multi-sensory learning

According to the principle of “learning with several senses”, the higher the retention rate, the more senses you use in learning. For example, the success rate increases significantly if the question and answer of the card index is spoken out loud while learning (i.e. using three senses by seeing, speaking, hearing). A computer implementation of the system offers significantly more options here:

  • Foreign-language vocabulary can automatically be spoken over and over again with the examination of the answer in order to memorize the phonetics
  • the query can be made in writing and then checks and practices the foreign-language orthography
  • Words can be associated with images (or even video sequences)
  • Additional information that is difficult to remember (such as the gender of foreign language vocabulary) can be visualized in the answer using colors or shapes
  • Options for querying additional grammar information can be varied depending on the user's wishes and the current level of knowledge
  • The motivation to learn can be improved by automated positive feedback (fanfare with known vocabulary, unpleasant tone in the case of mistakes) and an anchor effect can thus be created
  • Feedback on learning success, automated messages of motivation and comparison with other users are possible in order to arouse ambition and maintain motivation.
  • Prepared learning content can be made available to many students by the system provider or the teacher or shared among them
  • A large number of data can be evaluated (number of necessary resubmissions, the route taken by the flashcards and, in particular, the learning success) in order to recognize patterns, possibly to identify different learning types and, on this basis, to optimize the resubmission logic.
  • With automatic speech recognition, the pronunciation can also be queried in perspective

Furthermore, more complex query algorithms are also possible with a computer implementation. Every query of a learning card has a query time and generates a query result (0 = not known or 1 = known). The corresponding binary time series can be saved and used to determine the optimal query algorithm on a user-specific basis. Various mathematical methods can be used for this purpose, e.g. B. Neural Networks . The query intervals of the index cards, which are set relatively arbitrarily by Leitner, can be optimized as in the SM2 algorithm according to Wozniak (1998).

See also


  • Sebastian Leitner : This is how you learn to learn . 18th edition. Verlag Herder, Freiburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-451-05060-2 (describes in detail, among other things, the use of the learning card index).
  • Peter Fenske: The little book about learning. Learn biologically with the 5-subject learning box . AOL-Verlag, Lichtenau 2002, ISBN 3-89312-411-X (concise and understandable presentation of the various learning techniques with the learning card index).
  • Armin Born, Claudia Oehler: Successfully supporting children with numeracy problems . 4th edition. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-17-022188-8 (describes in the chapter "Basic principles of support work" the use of the learning card index for children with poor numeracy).
  • Karl Heinz Beelich and Hans Hermann Schwede: Learning and work technology . 2nd Edition. Vogel Buchverlag, Würzburg 1979, ISBN 3-8023-0064-5 (describe the use of examples in the section “The learning card”).

Individual evidence

  1. Rudolf Müller, Martin Jürgens, u. a .: 30 minutes of self-study techniques. Gabal-Verlag, 4th, revised edition, July 16, 2012, p. 89.
  2. Evaluation of the vocabulary trainer ADVANCED taking into account the expanding rehearsals and psycholinguistic variables. Retrieved July 16, 2017 .