- When I use the word "asemantic", it is generally as a synonym for the adjective "meaningless" or "rote".
- The antonym of asemantic is "semantic".
- An example of asemantic learning is memorising a phone number, or a random string of nonsense syllables.
- Asemantic learning also happens when you try to learn something complex before mastering the fundamentals, eg. trying to read a computer science paper before having learnt computer science 101.
- To learn asemantic information, you have to find a way to "artificially" add meaning to the information, for example by using mnemonics.
- When you learn asemantically, it is difficult or impossible to maked meaningful connections between the new incoming information and your prior knowledge.
- A good example of asemantic learning can be seen in the 1885 memory experiments carried out by [Ebbinghaus]. In his experiments, Ebbinghaus chose to learn strings of nonsense syllables rather than poem stanzas to control for interference from his prior knowledge. ^5e58b5
- Mnemonics are asemantic learning devices.
¶ Asemantic Learning and Spaced Repetition
Ebbinghaus used meaningless learning tasks to eliminate influence of meaningful prior knowledge. But it is precisely this interaction of new learning tasks with existing idiosyncratic cognitive structures that is the distinctive feature of meaningful learning. Thus, although the use of nonsense syllables or paired adjectives adds undoubted methodological rigor to the study of learning, the very nature of this material limits the applicability of the findings in such experiments to a type of short-term, rote learning that is rare in everyday situations and even rarer in the classroom. - David Ausubel
- Andy Matuschak made the same criticism of much of the modern research on spaced repetition in an interview me and Zander did with him back in October 2020.
- Most research papers barely move beyond memorisation of Ebbinghaus-esque nonsense syllables. The goal of this is of course understandable - to control for the confounding interference of prior knowledge and meaning, similar to how Ebbinghaus chose nonsense syllables over poem stanzas. But this insistence on pure scientific rigour eliminates any relation the research could have to the most interesting applications of spaced repetition: in creative domains where there must be rich interactions between new material and prior knowledge.
"People have known for centuries that memory for meaningless items can be greatly improved by strategies that involve somehow adding meaning artificially to an item which otherwise has little intrinsic meaningful content, and it can be even more helpful if it adds a strong visual image to the item. Various techniques have been devised for this purpose, and they are known as mnemonics." - An Introduction to Applied Cognitive Psychology
- When you are forced to learn asemantic information, one strategy is to use mnemonics.