Are Flashcards an Effective Learning Tool? [INFOGRAPHIC]

You probably remember that kid from high school who was always shuffling through his scribbled-upon notecards before a big test. Perhaps you were (or are) that kid. Flashcards – both the traditional and digital types – have become the subject of much debate among educators. So are they actually an effective learning tool?

The infographic below was inspired by the recent launch of our new iPhone app featuring photo flashcards. In it, we take a look at several of the benefits that go hand-in-hand with this form of study, as well as some of the criticisms raised by the ELT community.

Where do you stand? Are you a flashcard friend or foe? Ready, set, debate!

(Click Image To Enlarge)

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About The Research Behind This Infographic

In addition to using the sources listed on the infographic, we anonymously polled 175 language teachers and students about their views on the effectiveness of flashcards. To explore the feedback we received, download the flashcard poll summary [PDF].

Use This Infographic In Your Class

We think that infographics are an awesome learning and teaching tool, so our creations will always be available for you to print out, use with your students and embed on your blog!


Warm-Up Discussion

Before handing out the infographic, discuss the following questions with your students:

Flashcard Preferences

  • Do you ever use flashcards?
  • Do you think that flashcards are an effective learning tool? Why or why not?

Learning Styles

  • Do you believe in learner types – e.g. that some people learn better by seeing, others by listening and still others by doing?
  • How do you learn best?

Listening Activity

Have your students watch and listen to Kirsten Winkler’s interview of Greg Detre from Memrise on the neuroscience of flashcards. Ask them to jot down all of the reasons why Detre thinks that “flashcards are great.” Once students have finished viewing the video and putting their thoughts on paper, compile a complete list of reasons on the board. Ask your students whether they agree or disagree with what they have heard in the video.

Speaking & Critical Thinking Practice

  • Why is studying with flashcards such a popular technique?
  • What goes on in our brains when we use flashcards?
  • Explain why it’s important to always space your studying.
  • Interpret the following quote as it relates to learning a language with flashcards:
    “Vocabulary knowledge is largely a question of accumulating individual items.” -Scott Thornbury
  • Summarize the arguments against the use of flashcards. What points, if any, would you add to this list?

Writing Challenge

Ask your students to write an essay or blog post in which they comment on the debate surrounding the effectiveness of flashcards as a learning and teaching tool. In addition to discussing their personal experiences, they should reference the infographic and the feedback from our anonymous ELT poll about the effectiveness of flashcards.

For more ideas on how to use infographics in your classroom, take a look at the New York Times’ Data Visualized: More on Teaching With Infographics.

Related Blog Posts, Articles and Links from the field of ELT

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8 Comments on "Are Flashcards an Effective Learning Tool? [INFOGRAPHIC]"

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Fantastic infographic! This is so useful for the ESL-Library team. I’ll share this with our subscribers via FB and twitter. The Flashcard app looks really great. Thanks Voxy team! 

Thanks to you too, Tara! 

Wow, OK man that makes a lot of sense dude. Wow.

Intriguing!  Will be checking out the related sources & sharing. Thank you!

Keep on keeping on!

really useful stuff. All of the weaknesses of flashcards mentioned in the criticisms above can be corrected for or at least mitigated by proper card design and implementing an appropriate spacing regimen, e.g. spiraling. Here are some card-design DOs and DON’Ts: * Don’t use single words; use whole sentences with a blank for the word or expression you’re trying to learn. * Don’t use abstractions or dictionary-style definitions; use example sentences that are based on actual events in the learner’s life. This helps to involve episodic memory as well. * Learners should produce their own cards. No teacher or publisher… Read more »
I’ve been learning German for over 2 years now and while I don’t think flashcards are a fantastic way of learning all vocabulary, I think they are a necessary part of any language learning mix. You need to find some way to actually list and remind yourself of words that you are learning as part of your other learning techniques… reading, audio, video, etc…. and then study them to reinforce them. I use flashcards on my iPad and iPhone to have them readily to hand and study them when I travel, when I’m waiting and in many other ‘down time’… Read more »

flash cards are a fun way to teach and for the learners to understand better in the classroom