Probably the greatest benefit of flashcards – as I have mentioned in previous articles – is the fact that they lend themselves to quick revision anywhere at any time. To make use of that, flashcards should be mobile. For the most part, paper flashcards already fulfill this requirement: A small stack can be carried in any purse or pocket without too much trouble. And voilà, whenever you find yourself waiting in line, or with nothing to do on the ride home or waiting for your friend who’s always running late, you’ll have something engaging – and educational! – to fill your time. No better way to bridge a gap in your day.
But that paper stack may not always find room in your bag, especially if you’ll be walking around all day or going on a trip and could do without the extra weight. Plus, to all of you super learners out there juggling ten different stacks with hundreds of flashcards all at once, there may be no bag big enough to hold all of your knowledge. Technology to the rescue! Let’s face it, computers and phones have long replaced many items we used to carry around with us out of necessity and made life much easier (and lighter, for that matter). The multitude of study sites on the web and the many mobile apps that are available today have also managed to add a completely new dimension to learning. In a lot of ways, studying has never been easier or more convenient. Flashcards, of course, have also profited from this trend.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of e-flashcards and electronic flashcard creation. Everyone who ever had to cram months of classes or thousands of vocab words onto their paper cards knows how your hand will feel at the end of the day. While typing or staring at your computer for hours on end may not be too much fun either the card creation process will definitely be easier on your hands and much faster. Then there’s the actual study process. If you’re a true flashcard whiz you’ll likely have figured out your own system of quizzing yourself to get the most out of learning: Stacks for flashcards you’ve mastered, stacks for those that need much more revision. But keeping track can be bothersome, especially if you’re on the go and may not be able to keep all those stacks in order. That’s why smart flashcard apps and websites are such an improvement: They’ll keep track for you and quiz you according to your level of confidence.
What’s out there for me? If you haven’t made the switch to web/mobile flashcards yet, maybe this article might convince you to check out what’s available. I chose three sites for a brief content and usability analysis, so read on if you need some help making a decision.
The first site I want to mention is maybe the most well-known. Quizlet has been around for a while and offers the options to either create and study your own flashcards or to browse their user-generated databases of free cards to study. Having pretty much any content you might want to study readily available might seem perfect, but an important factor to consider is that anyone can create anything without review. If you already roughly know your way around a field of study you might be able to filter out incorrect/inaccurate information – but as the point is usually to learn something you don’t know it’s risky to rely on possibly faulty study material. If you choose to create your own flashcards, you can copy and paste pre-existing content or type up new cards. These can be studied in three different ways: Required input of the (exact) answer by either visual or auditory prompt or as a test with multiple choice and true/false questions. Additionally, your material can be reviewed in the form of two games. If you want to remember the material covered long-term, choosing a production approach to learning is definitely the way to go, so the ‘Test’ option isn’t advisable. Also, for learners who prefer a fast-paced review of their card material typing in an answer (which must correspond 1:1 with the answer, no typos or it will be considered wrong) might not be the best way to go.
Quizlet does not offer an official app. However, there are a number of free and paid mobile applications of the site available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone (e.g. Flashcardlet) that use the site’s API so you can study your cards on your phone.
The second flashcard site I’ll review is StudyBlue. It is “made for students” (so stated in the About section) and much of the study environment is targeted at classes and classroom use. During sign-up there’s an option to check ‘I’m not a student’, so the site is also available for lifelong learners, but many features are targeted at students. Your ‘Backpack’ will hold all cards that have been created (there is no premium content, but you can get access to your classmates’ materials) and also tracks your study progress. Cards can be studied in order or shuffled, once you’ve registered some progress there is also an option to study cards that you gave a wrong answer to in previous study sessions. The features ‘Hardest to Easiest’ and ‘Least Studied’ are only available to StudyBlue+ users, an upgrade costs $10 per month or $80 per year. There is also a quiz available with multiple choice, true or false and ‘type the answer’ questions (the latter indicates how many letters are required). During the basic study experience, you will have to review the question site, flip the card, then rate whether you knew the answer or not (thumbs up or thumbs down). Your study progress will be rated overall at the end and you will have the option to study the wrong answers.
StudyBlue is available as a free mobile app for iOS and Android. It offers all the features of the website (card creation, class content, etc.) and automatically transfers progress from the phone to the web (and vice versa).
If you’ve followed some of my previous articles you’ve likely heard of Brainscape, a smart flashcard web and mobile platform. What makes Brainscape’s flashcards so very ‘smart’ is the fact that they keep track of your study progress and repeat cards according to your level of confidence. (As opposed to both sites mentioned above, your confidence can be rated on a scale of 1-5; you will not have to choose between/be classified as right or wrong). Card content can be created on the web or the app and will be grouped into subjects and decks (sub-categories). A great asset of this site is its market that offers premium content for flashcard users: The ever-expanding language database provides all lingophiles with study material, but knowledge junkies and students poring over important tests (SAT, GRE, APs) will find their subject of choice well-represented also. Light versions and previews allow you to check out every subject before you make a purchase, so make sure to peruse the market as much as you like. The content you created yourself can be shared via email or public link with friends or an entire class. The stats pages for every subject keep track of all learners’ progress, so you can see who else has achieved what level of mastery, which is a great tool for educators interested in setting up a study platform for their class. (The Teachers‘ page covers in detail how educators can use Brainscape.) During the study session, you’ll have to produce the answer to the question side of your card, no input required – perfect for fast-paced quizzing. Afterwards, you’ll rate your confidence; a card rated ‘1’ will show up much more frequently than a perfectly mastered ‘5’.
The main Brainscape app is free and available for all iOS devices. An in-app market allows you to buy any premium content you want straight from your phone. A sync button in the app will transfer your study progress from the phone to the web (and vice versa).
So much for the review of web and mobile flashcards. I hope I was able to offer you a bit more insight into what is available and what might suit your study purposes best. Happy card creating!