Optimization of learning

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Optimization of learning

Optimization of learning. A new approach and a computer application was my Master's Thesis written in 1990 at the University of Technology in Poznan, Poland. The thesis was supervised by Prof. Zbigniew Kierzkowski (b. 1938).

This glossary entry is used to explain "History of spaced repetition" by Piotr Wozniak (June 2018)

Main contributions

The thesis described the birth of the SuperMemo method: the first algorithm for spaced repetition. It also made bold predictions about its universal application in learning.

Important contributions:

  • defining optimum review interval for spaced repetition
  • establishing the existence and mathematical nature of optimum intervals in spaced repetition
  • establishing the concept of computational spaced repetition
  • presenting the evolution of repetition spacing algorithms from version 0 (paper), to version 5 (SuperMemo 5 from 1989)
  • discussing the future of education based on spaced review
  • discussing the application of spaced repetition to procedural learning
  • hypothesizing on possible neural circuits involved in declarative and procedural learning
  • hypothesizing on possible molecular mechanisms underlying long term memory
  • proving the existence of two variables of long-term memory


After a long battle with conservative forces at my university, on Nov 28, 1988, Prof. Kierzkowski provided the ultimate green light. Not only can my thesis speak of SuperMemo. I was also allowed to write it in English. This was pretty unusual in the 1980s. Three decades later, more and more students in Poland opt for a thesis in English with hope of making a bigger impact.


Picture example

Hypothetical mechanism involved in the process of optimal learning
Hypothetical mechanism involved in the process of optimal learning

Figure: In my Master's Thesis titled "Optimization of learning" (1990), I presented some hypothetical concepts that might underly the process of optimal learning based on spaced repetition. (A) Molecular phenomena (B) Quantitative changes in the synapse. Those ideas are a bit dated today, but the serrated curves representing memory retrievability came to be widely known in popular publications on spaced repetition. They are usually wrongly attributed to Hermann Ebbinghaus