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I really enjoy using Memrise, and I’ve written about it before on this blog.


It is very well designed, has lots of personality, and it has a team of very talented developers working on it (who also seem to be Star Wars fans).

Another thing which I like about it, is that is has some game elements to it like a leaderboard and bonus points for answering the flashcards as fast as possible. But there is a very sneaky caveat to the game design of Memrise.

The leaderboard is a great way to get motivated to use the site and beat your friends. To be honest, I kind of stopped using Memrise for a while until a friend recently signed up and got me involved in some casual banter about who is ‘better’ at the site.

The leaderboard in Memrise is essentially a way of publicly showing your metrics on the site: if you use the site a lot, then you should have a brilliant leaderboard score right? Well… actually no. Or, at least not necessarily.

The thing about Memrise is that, although it has game-like elements, it’s main purpose is to help you get information into your long term memory. The site uses very smart algorithms to help you do this. Once you can successfully recall a flashcard, it occurs a lot less frequently.

If you have a good memory, or a decent strategy to recall information, then after a while flashcards won’t appear very often at all. And then you can’t get a highscore on the leaderboards. The only way to compete is to do start learning new courses on the site.

As a result, I’m now learning kind of random things like Chinese characters and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This kind of stuff will definitely come in useful in the future as I do more language stuff… but part of my motivation is so I can beat my friend on the leaderboard too.

I’m genuinely not too sure if this is an intentional part of their design, or if it is a kind of side effect of their flashcard algorithm. Either way, it is a fun (albeit sneaky) way to encourage constant learning.