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Contents : Overviews
Topics vs. items

A collection in SuperMemo is a set of elements. Each element makes up a page of information visible on a single screen. Elements in SuperMemo can be of three types: topics, items or tasks. Tasks are elements that store information related to tasks in to-do lists or reading lists. As such tasks do not take part in the learning process per se. This article discusses topics and items and their role in learning.

Topics are used to introduce the student to a given subject, while items are used to rehearse the same subject in order to retain it in memory. If you develop collections only for your own use, you may never need to use topics. Use reading list instead (see: Reading the Internet

For example, a topic may contain the following text:

Jimmy Carter, born 1924, US statesman and 39th President (1977-1981), born in Plains, Georgia. He was educated at the US Naval academy, and served in the US Navy until 1953, when he took over the family peanut business and other enterprises. As Governor of Georgia (1970-1974) he expressed enlightened policy towards the rights of colored men and women. In 1976 he won the Democratic presidential nomination, and went on to win a narrow victory over Gerald Ford. He arranged the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (1979), and was much concerned with human rights. His administration ended in difficulties over the taking of US hostages in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election

To rehearse the knowledge of the facts presented in the above text, the following question-answer items might have been used:

Q: Which year was Jimmy Carter born?
A: 1924

Q: Who was 39th President?
A: Jimmy Carter

Q: When did Jimmy Carter become President?
A: 1977

Q: What academy did Jimmy Carter attend?
A: US Naval academy

Q: What kind of family business did Jimmy Carter take over in 1953?
A: peanut business,

etc. etc.

Topics and items are processed in a different way in the learning process:

Optimally, items should be children or descendants of the topic from which they were derived. This way, during repetitions, the student can always refer to the parent topic by clicking the parent button on the navigation toolbar (up-arrow button). Parent of a given items can also be seen by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Up.

The following table summarizes the differences between topics and items:

Properties

Topics

Items

Length

May be longer, contain lengthy texts and rich graphics

Must be as short and simple as possible

Repetitions

Presented only once in the learning process (and dismissed). No repetitions are made

Repeated as many times as it takes to keep them in memory

Purpose

Used as an introduction to knowledge

Used for rehearsing knowledge

Creating

Check Topic on the element pop-up menu to make an element a topic

Uncheck Topic on the element pop-up menu to make an element an item

Repetition cycle

Topics are just presented as they are (even if some components are checked as Answer)

First question components are presented. Answer components are presented only after choosing Show answer

Processing

They are intended for passive review or reading

They are intended for active recall of information from memory

Information contents

Contain information that is rehearsed by many items

Contain a selected piece of information that makes only a part of a topic

Nature

Synthetic

Stimulus-response (most often: question and answer)

Location in knowledge tree

Best located as parents of items that concern the same subject

Best placed as children of the parent topic

If you choose Add new or press Ctrl+A, you will add a new item to your collection. Add new adds the items as a descendant of the current contents category. To change the item into a topic, choose Type : Topic on the element's pop-up menu. When you open the Type submenu again, Topic should be checked. This shows that the current element is interpreted as a topic.

Use the following steps to easily build a healthy structure of knowledge in your collection:

  1. Click Contents in the element window to open the contents window
  2. Find a place where you want to add your topic
  3. Add an element with Add, Insert or Sibling at the bottom of the contents window
  4. Choose Add to add the first item
  5. Choose Sibling to add remaining items
  6. Click your topic and choose View to open it in the element window
  7. Check Topic on the element pop-up menu
  8. Edit the contents of the topic
  9. Click Contents
  10. Click the first item and choose View to open it in the element window
  11. Edit the contents of the item (you can use templates to speed this work up)
  12. Go to Step 9 and repeat Steps 9-12 until you are done
  13. Use can use categories to speed up adding a large number of items as children of a single topic