Optimization of Learning: Introduction

Piotr Wozniak, 1990

From P.A.Wozniak, Optimization of Learning, Master's Thesis, 1990

Everyone who has ever attempted to learn anything, must have discovered that learning can be a pretty frustrating process. Whatever we learn, we are hunted by the disheartening awareness that sooner or later the newly acquired knowledge, unless repeated, will be ruined by the process of forgetting.

In 1982, having been utterly irritated with my insufficient learning capabilities, I decided to take on the problem and look for avenues towards improving my autodidactic methodology. Today, in 1990, with a great satisfaction I can say that my problem was practically solved, and that now learning can be a pleasant and productive activity.

The main subject of interest throughout this thesis is the SuperMemo method of fast learning, which was developed by the writer of these words. The fact of choosing a sort of a catchword - SuperMemo - instead of a scientific term reflects my deep conviction that before long, the described method will find its way to a wide population of students who wish to boost their learning powers. If anyone feels repelled by this self-acclaiming and non-scientific term, he may substitute SuperMemo with the words time-optimized learning in such phrases as SuperMemo method, SuperMemo theory, SuperMemo software, etc.
The term time-optimum learning is intended here to mean a process, which takes minimum time to achieve the same goals as learning devoid of adjectives. In other words, time-optimum learning will produce the same changes in the student's brain as any other form of learning except for this little difference that it will do it in minimum time.

The main objective of the thesis is to give an extensive account of my research on the SuperMemo method. The wide range of problems touched will spread from molecular to societal level, from theoretical models to practical applications, from history of research to prospects for the future and from formal specifications to literal citation of a 10-year-old student. I will analyze milliseconds of a synaptic discharge and present consequences of a life-long application of the SuperMemo method. I will not refrain from describing the amateurish beginnings, when more for fun than for research, I counted dots on answer-sheets. Nor will I try to conceal my optimistic view of what SuperMemo can change in the process of education.

This multitude of topics obliges me at this moment to help the reader find his or her way across the SuperMemo jungle. I expect the readership to include children, computer scientists, biologists, people dissatisfied with their progress in learning and skeptics who look for a target for mud-slinging. I would like to help all of them by including a short description of particular chapters as well as the reader's guide.

To make pick-it-up reading of separate chapters easier, as well as to facilitate the reader's contact with a broad spectrum of multi-domain theoretical aspects of the SuperMemo method, the layman's glossary of specialist and newly introduced terminology was placed at the end of the thesis.

At this point I would like to wish the reader patience in wading through all unclear passages and to beg for leniency in judging my clumsy efforts to make the text both enjoyable and instructive.