|Warsaw Voice is the most popular English-language weekly in Poland. Wojciech Gryciuk wrote a number of articles about SuperMemo for Computer World, Poland. This was his free-lance contribution to Warsaw Voice in Spring 1995|
A question-and-answer-format teaching program made in Poland proves popular worldwide
There are several educational programs used to accelerate the learning process. The best-known are the American MegaMemory and the Bulgarian SuperLearning. Also popular is SuperMemo, developed by a Polish company, SuperMemo World, and used in more than 50 countries. The program has received several Polish and foreign awards. At the CeBIT 95 fair, the authors presented the most recent version on CD-ROM: SuperMemo 7.5 for Windows
What is SuperMemo?
The method applied in SuperMemo can be used for improving any form of teaching. The computer requires the input of the knowledge to be acquired, presented a set of questions and answers. The learning method is based on a highly efficient use of breaks between repetitions and applies algorithms, describing when and which fragments should be repeated.
Compared to traditional teaching methods, SuperMemo speeds up the learning process from 10 to 50 times. Once a piece of information is acquired, it remains in the students memory thanks to a series of properly sequences repetitions. Users can set their own pace of work. They can increase the learning rate, sacrificing the memory stability, or increase the memory level (up to 99 percent at a slower rate of learning).
How do you use it?
The simplest way is to operate ready-to-use database offered together with the package. During the session, after activating the program, you should open the desired database and choose Learn mode. At the top of the screen , a series of questions will appear. You should answer them with the keyboard, because after pressing any key, answers will appear at the bottom of the screen. You should compare your answer with the one on the screen and grade yourself between 0-5. At the end of the session, the program repeats all the questions, which received a 3 grade, until you improve to grade 4 or 5. The program analyzes the grades and sets best interval time before the repetition, according to the pre-calculated forgetting rate. The session is made up of repetitions and new information.
Operating the program is so easy that at the beginning it seems impossible for it to be so effective. However, after a month, progress can be observed.
Though simple, the program is based on extensive theoretical data. Its author, Poznan scientist, Dr Piotr Wozniak, wrote his Masters Thesis on SuperMemo at the University of Technology in Poznan. After minor adjustments, the menu structure, opinions and program parameters were adopted from the DOS version which was a result of five years work on improving the program and the technique for calculating optimal intervals between repetitions. The most recent versions graphics and sound enhance knowledge acquisition thanks to picture and phonetic presentation of questions and answers
SuperMemos success depends on the quality and number of databases accessible. SuperMemo World offers several dozen databases, a major part of which were created by package users and foreign partners. The most successful packages include audiovisual databases for assisting learners of foreign languages (mainly English, but also German, French, Spanish and Russian). Other areas presented in the database include: medicine, sciences, economics, politics, social sciences, geography, history, arts, road traffic regulations and many more. The largest databases contain tens of thousands of units. These include Advanced English (under preparation for the American market; 38.000 units, database) and English Vocabulary (34.000 units, database).
To promote the program, each year, the company organizes a competition for users to create the best database. The best ones are later offered together with the package.
The CD-ROM with SuperMemo 7.5 contains application programs as well as several examples of audiovisual, audio and text databases. The remainder can be purchased from dealers
Who is it for?
An effective use of SuperMemo is not easy and requires much effort and patience. After learning the basics, users react differently, depending on their intelligence and education level, especially their knowledge of sciences. Many learners are disappointed with the high number of mechanical repetitions. Among them are usually people with no higher education or a background in arts, not sciences.
Only 60 percent of users keep working with the program for longer than a month. This is because its impossible to succeed with SuperMemo without personal commitment. Also, after many repetitions, some learners come to the false conclusion that they already know the material, so they stop repeating. Even after devoting only 20 minutes every day to the program, in a year you can acquire 10.000 units - but is not lifelong knowledge. After a years break, you lose 60 percent of it.
A bit of history
The author of the method, Piotr Wozniak, 33, is a scientist from Poznan. After he started his studies at the Biology Department, he was surprised to discover that despite good scores on his examinations, he would forget half of the learned facts after just two weeks. So he began to study learning theory. In 1985, he started developing his own theory, which he called SuperMemo 0.0. He also began studies in information science, and in 1987 produced the first computer version of SuperMemo 1.0.
SuperMemo became the subject of Wozniaks Masters Thesis, which he wrote in English. The work included elements of other sciences: behavioral science, biochemistry and sociology. It also convinced him that SuperMemo has great prospects
After completing his studies in 1991, Wozniak established the SuperMemo World company, aimed at promoting the SuperMemo idea. Since then, the program has received many awards of distinction, including one at the CeBIT92 fair.
However, an unknown product cant easily be sold. The first package was sold by the company in 1992. In 1993, sales were still less than 2.000 units. The boom same in 1994, when the company sold 20.000 units, including 2.000 on CD-ROM.
To a great extent, this was due to an agreement with JTT, the second-largest computer equipment distributor in Poland. JTT adds the package to the computers it sells
The relatively small sales level at the beginning of the companys existence was due to black market. According to estimated data, there were 100.000 illegal copies of the program, which makes it the third most popular copied software in Poland after DOS and Microsoft Word
Piotr Wozniak thinks that these 100,000 people constitute a huge sales potential now that SuperMemo has been available with extensive databases on CD-ROM. I hope that anyone who gets hold of SuperMemo will want to have the most recent legal version so that they can use the program more effectively, he says
The program is on sale outside of Poland as well. The first contracts with Western companies (Germany, Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, and Australia) were signed after the program made it into the finals of the Software for Europe competition at the CeBIT 92 fair. However, so far, the partners are focusing on promotion only
In April 1994, the company opened a branch office in the United States, offering an American version of the program on CD-ROM. So far, promotion costs in the West are beyond the companys capabilities, but a campaign in the United States was possible thanks to the financial support of a Polish-American foundation. The foundation helped out as a reward for winning a competition for best promotion of Polish products
Currently registered users come from 57 countries-the result of a marketing strategy which distributes older versions of the program (SuperMemo 6.0 for DOS at present) as shareware through bulletin boards (BBS) and the Internet
The most recent 7.5 version is now available in English, Czech and Polish. The company is planning to sell SuperMemo on two CD-ROMs. One of them will be devoted to teaching English; the other one will contain the remaining databases. In the long run, SuperMemo World would like to develop a virtual-reality version of the program