Tools for Learning: Flashcards? Really?

Flashcards seem to lend themselves to the trite, and are often considered old school, albeit tried and true at the same time. People use them a lot because they actually work, after all. I have a collection of online flashcard tools ranging from search engines to make-your-own to online social networks and wikis for sharing and discovering flashcards and tools. Most of these are Flash based, some of them let you make Flashcards with embedded videos and audio, and some have more than two sides! Quite a few of them have built-in software options to make learning more efficient and to manage the display, timing, and repetition of the questions. For those, you want to explore the different options and see what actually works best for you. Some of them include a wiki or blogs along with other social netwokring options to allow sharing and collaboration in studying. Many allow you to create or save flashcards for use on your iPhone or similar mobile device, some of which are both phone and web compatible. So, at the risk of sounding trite, these are not your Grandma’s flashcards, Dorothy.

You don’t have to use them the old ways, either. Try doing something new. Thinking of the more social flashcard sites, like Cobocards or FunnelBrain or many others, set up a group for your class for the students to share flashcards they make, then assign them to make flashcards for a controversial topic. Cobocards lets students use Skype to partner while studying or quiz each other, so you could assign partners or teams. Or ask students to create quizzes for each other (which isn’t new) and then critique the quality of the flashcards they designed.

Using the multimedia options, make flashcards with a auscultation or breath sounds quiz, snippets of patient interviews from cases, diagnostic movements, or examples of interviewing skills and patient history taking questions. The whole point of the “flash” of flash cards is to get at that information that needs to be so deeply embedded and quickly retrieved that it seems like instinct. What you need to know without stopping to think how you know it. Maybe it is professional jargon, maybe it is research methodologies, maybe it is types of charts.

I’ve never seen a flashcard set with, for example, data visualizations on one side and the matching types of data to use as the answers. With images, you can include histology or pathology images, anatomy dissections, drug administration modalities, anatomical landmarks, mapping, disease spread patterns, pathogens, and much more. With the “three sided” flashcards available on some of these sites (like Flashcard Manager), you could do if/then types of questions, or miniature decision trees, or stages of a process. You could have an image, followed by a word or name or date, and then the student gives the other matching piece or the significance.

If you are thinking of these as supporting distance learning, make a midterm from a flashcard quiz, untimed, and assign the students to work through the quiz providing a few sentences or paragraphs in response to the “triggers” given in the flashcards. You don’t have to think of the flashcards as being the quiz themselves, but can think of them as a delivery mechanism, you can turn them into a game. Many of the flashcard creation sites also offer related tools for creating edugames. In distance learning, or working with trying to assess student achievement over the internet, sometimes games can be a really effective and time efficient way to get at this.

The Japanese have a traditional card game played on New Year’s (hanafuda or hyakunin) that is actually very similar to flashcards, and also related to the matching memory games played here. It is based on their most significant pieces of traditional literature, with very short quotations from the work or poems on each card, with images illustrating the poem.

Happy New Year!

If you really want to challenge the creativity of your students, ask them either individually or collaboratively to create a deck of playing cards to illustrate the most important concepts of the topic, reserving the “royal” cards for the most significant concepts.


While this isn’t exactly flashcards, I used MultiURL to generate a nifty interactive tool for you to explore these. It provides a frame-based exploration. You create an account, list the URLs you want to share, and it gives you a short link. I have 25 URLs listed in this one. As you flip the “pages” with the arrow, it loads the page in the window, making it easy for you to skim the set of collected tools.


Flash Card Machine:
Flashcard Flash (Custom Search Engine for Flashcards):
Free Printable Flash Card Maker:
Free World U: Flashcards:
iFlipR (Make Flashcard for iPhone or on the Web):
Scholastic: Homework Hub: Flashcard Maker:
Study Stack:

7 responses to “Tools for Learning: Flashcards? Really?

  1. Great article, good overview! Many thanks for mentioning CoboCards.

    If everything goes fine we’ll open the Pool today, a data base with flashcards from the community.

    Ali (CoboCards)


  2. I’m in a meeting where someone just suggested GWhizMobile:


  3. Pingback: Tools for Learning: Flashcards Done Right, Video Tools, & Augmented Reality « Emerging Technologies Librarian

  4. Mayowa Olusunmade

    flashcards are indeed wonderful. it was very helpful in d latter part of med school for me and I wish I had come across it earlier. Now using it for the steps.


  5. Pingback: 100,000? 100,000! | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  6. Pingback: Our Cool Toys Group as a Community of Practice for Emerging Technologies (And What’s Next!) | Emerging Technologies Librarian

  7. Foreign languages flashcards – my hobby. Sometimes I publish ready cards in PDF format for free use –


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