Welcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.
Flashcards with Flair
I’ve come across online flashcards a few times and been curious. Do they work well in an online format? Do online flashcards offer benefits that old-fashioned 3×5 cards lack? There are a number of free web-based tools that offer this functionality. In hopes of answering those questions, I signed up for several free online flashcards products, tested them out, and chose three to review: Quizlet, Flashcard Machine, and Cerego.
Quizlet is a free tool for creating and using flashcards, which can be used to generate quizzes and games. After creating a free account, you’ll be taken to a dashboard screen which will show your (as yet non-existent) activity.
Creating cards: It’s super easy to create flashcards in Quizlet. From the top navigation area, click on Create a Study Set. Then, fill in the blanks with one field for one side of the “card” and one field for the flip side (which Quizlet calls a definition).
To the right of each card, there are 3 icons to: add a photo, add a sound file, and search for definitions/answers within the flashcards from other Quizlet users. However, you cannot upload your own photos or audio with a free account. The search for definitions feature functions nicely, letting you review a list of matching definitions. Click to select one, and edit if you wish.
Flashcard collection: Quizlet contains a library of flashcards created by users. I could not locate information about how large this collection is, but I didn’t have trouble finding material on a variety of topics.
Search/browse: Quizlet allows for a simple keyword search, after which you can sort by relevance or date. There is no browse option.
Reusing flashcards: Once you find a study set that meets your needs, there are number of ways to reuse the cards. The two that I found most useful are copy and add to folder. Once cards are copied, you may edit them, whereas add to folder just saves them for you to use later.
Studying: Quizlet’s strength is in the many ways that you can study using flashcards. The options include:
- Flashcards is very similar to using actual Flashcards. Click a card to flip it over, click the forward arrow to view the next card in the set.
- Learn mode presents the flashcards as a fill-in-the-blank quiz. This is a good self-assessment next step.
- The Speller option is interesting. It reads material from the study set, which you then type. I think that this is meant to help with retention, since in doing this you’re hearing, seeing, and typing the words.
- Test presents a test with a variety of types of questions including fill-in-the-blank, true-false, matching, and multiple choice.
- The Scatter game presents words with definitions in random boxes. Drag one to another to make them disappear as the timer counts up.
- The goal of the game Gravity is to type in the definition (or the term) as the meteors fall toward Earth. With this game, you can choose from 3 levels of difficulty as well as whether to see the term or the definition first.
Overall: If you just want to create a set of flashcards, Quizlet is a great option because it’s easy and fast to create the cards, and you’ll have many study options. If you’re interested in finding cards that have already been created, Quizlet is pretty good, but the search/browse functionality falls short.
Flashcard Machine is a very flexible flashcard creation tool, but it’s a little old school in terms of interface. It’s not difficult to use, but sometimes you have to click more than once to get to the screen you want to use.
Creating cards: To get started, create a free account, then click Create a Set. You will be prompted for some basic metadata about your new set and be given options for sharing your cards. I appreciate that both subject and education level are controlled vocabulary (with a pop-up list), which ultimately should make sets easier for others to locate.
Once you’ve created a set, creating cards is easy using either the Quick Editor or the Advanced Editor. The Quick Editor is two columns of text boxes, one for each side of the card. Fill them in, and click Save. The Advanced Editor has word processor functionality, and includes options for adding images and audio files. The down side is that you have to create one card at a time.
Flashcard collection: Flashcard Machine contains over 111 million flashcards in its library. I don’t know how many of them are world-class flashcards, but that’s the price you pay for crowd sourcing. The up side is that the flashcards I looked at were accurate and useful.
Search/browse: With 111 million flashcards, thank goodness that the search and browse features in Flashcard Machine are awesome. The browse options include subject, most popular, highest rated, and top authors. Wow! The search functionality is equally impressive and includes keyword searching along with several field search choices.
On the results page, you can sort by relevance, topic, subject, date created, and rating. I’m not sure where the topic option is coming from, since I wasn’t directed to assign one when building my set of flashcards.
Reusing flashcards: You can add any set of flashcards to a list of favorites or you can save the set, which allows you to edit the cards.
Studying: There are three games that you can use to study with a set of flashcards.
Quiz Me is a multiple choice game. If you get the answer right, you can move onto the next card. If you get it wrong, you have to keep guessing until you get it right.
Speed requires you to choose the correct answer from a column of moving cards, which are blank until you click them. It involves a lot of mousing, so it’s not the best game for those of use with repetitive strain injuries, but it’s engaging.
In Pop Quiz, you fill in the letters of your answer on a Jeopardy style screen.
Overall: Flashcard Machine is not flashy, but it’s flexible and completely free. I suggest this tool for those who fondly remember using Pine as a text editor for email.
Cerego is the flashiest of the three products I reviewed, and it is (so far as I could tell) completely free.
Creating cards: After creating your free account, click the Create button in the left-side navigation bar, choose to make your set public or private, and proceed to name your set. Next you’ll have the opportunity to choose an attractive image to be featured on the set.
Here’s where the magic starts. To add a card to your set, choose one of the seven templates listed on the start page. These are more than just layout templates, they guide you through creating flashcards with different activities. The template options include:
- Associations, which are basic flashcards.
- Vocabulary, which are like basic flashcards, but you can include examples of the word in use.
- Passages allow you to remove important words from a phrase to create fill-in-the-blank questions.
- Regions let you map words to hot spots on an image.
- Sequences are used for outlining processes or procedures in the proper order.
- Patterns are used to teach characteristics, such as for plant identification.
The dashboard for my flashcard set. On the left are templates to choose from. To the right, Cerego adds your items in a visual layout.
Some of the options, such as patterns, were a bit confusing to set up. That may be the nature of creating this type of content, and therefore not the fault of Cerego’s user interface.
Flashcard collection: Cerego has fewer sets than do the other two products, but they appear to all be high quality. Cerego hosts a Google Group for content creators, and perhaps this more hands-on approach includes curating flashcard sets. In addition, many of the sets are authored by Cerego themselves.
Search/browse: Cerego offers simple keyword search as well as the option to browse content. The browsing options are organized by broad disciplines, with one layer of subdisciplines.
Reusing flashcards: You can copy any set of flashcards and edit it to be your own.
Studying: In Learn mode, Cerego takes you through a process of reviewing the flashcards followed by quizzes. They promise a patented process designed to maximize learning. I found the process to be both engaging and, in the short term, effective.
Overall: Cerego is a great tool, and using it to learn is straightforward. Creating flashcards takes some practice. I recommend this product to anybody who likes tinkering and has content that is worth the time investment of building an excellent learning tool.
Other Cool Cards
There are many online flashcard creation tools, and I couldn’t review them all, but I did look them order and rate them, using the same five criteria that I used for the longer reviews. Here are my brief notes and ratings.
- Cobocards – Free, with paid options. I found some broken links in the site and user interface is awful, but for the most part it appears to function.
- Course Hero – Free with paid options. Course Hero offers tutoring services and other study resources in addition to flashcards.There’s a lot of good content in there, but you have to hack your way through a thicket of “join now!” messages along the way.
- Cram – Free with a paid option. Appears to be similar to Quizlet in functionality, with some additional free features.
- Duolingo – Free high quality flashcards for learning languages. I’ve signed up for Welsh.
- Learn that Word – Free with a paid option. This product specializes in English language vocabulary. It’s kind of ugly, but it seems to work and contains a lot of vocabulary words as well as several ways to study the flashcards.
- Memrise – Free with paid options for more learning modes. Memrise is focused on language acquisition, though there is plenty of other subject content in the collection.
- Study Blue – I would have scored this higher if I were reviewing the paid version, as it looks pretty good. However, though you can create flashcards and study them on Study Blue, you’ll have to pay in order to gain access to the collection of flashcard sets.
I didn’t sign up to use the following three products because they require a software download. They may be amazing, who knows? If you give any of them a try, let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
Comment below if you have any thoughts on this article or suggestions for the next Tech Tools column. I love hearing from you!