Advantages of incremental learning



In incremental learning, you learn fast, you acquire massive loads of knowledge, retain memories for life, remember almost all that you have learned, understand things better, develop harmoniously in all directions, enhance your creativity, and all that while having incredible fun! If that sounds too good to be true, please read more below or just give it a solid try.

Massive learning

Incremental learning offers a possibility of studying a huge number of subjects in parallel. In traditional reading, very often, one book or academic subject must be completed before studying another. With incremental learning, there is virtually no limit on how many subjects you can study at the same time. The volume of processed knowledge can be staggering. Only the availability of time and your memory capacity will keep massive learning in check.

Lifetime memories

As incremental learning is based on spaced repetition, all memories that you form while learning will be indefinitely protected from forgetting. See: General principles of SuperMemo. Only SuperMemo makes it possible to implement incremental reading. Incremental reading requires continual retention of knowledge. Depending on the volume of knowledge flow in the program, the interval between reading individual portions of the same article may extend from days to months and even years. SuperMemo (repetition spacing) provides the foundation of incremental reading, which is based on stable memory traces that would not fade between the bursts of reading

High retention

In incremental learning, the review of the learning material is governed by a spaced repetition algorithm known as the SuperMemo method. The algorithm ensures 95% knowledge retention by default. That fraction can be increased at the cost of higher cost in time (i.e. more frequent review). Retention can also be reduced to increase the overall speed of learning. In heavily overloaded collections, 95% retention figure refers only to top-priority material. To save time, low priority material may be reviewed less frequently, resulting in lesser retention.


One of the limiting factors in acquiring new knowledge is the barrier of understanding. Building knowledge in your brain is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces cannot be placed in the puzzle before the others. Some pieces capitalize on others. There is no point in memorizing facts about Higgs boson before you learn what the standard model is and that, in turn, should follow the general understanding of particle physics which itself requires some ABC of physics. In incremental reading, if you encounter texts related to Higgs boson you can manually delay it until the time you hope your Physics ABC will provide the ground for understanding the boson. In traditional reading, you would just waste your time on reviewing Higgs boson material just because you would not have tools to effectively reschedule and reprioritize your reading in the middle of a longer article. Traditionally, your decision to skip the material would provide no definite way of coming back to the skipped material in the future. With incremental reading, you waste no time on reading material you do not understand. You can safely skip portions of material and return to them in the future. You become the master of the conscious knowledge building process. You can gradually build understanding of complex phenomena.

All written materials, depending on the reader's knowledge, pose a degree of difficulty in accurately interpreting their meaning. This is particularly visible in highly specialist scientific papers that use a sophisticated symbol-rich language. A symbol-rich language is a language that gains conciseness by the use of highly specialist vocabulary and notational conventions. For an average reader, symbol-rich language may exponentially raise the bar of lexical competence (i.e. knowledge of vocabulary required to gain understanding). Incremental reading makes it possible to delay the processing of those articles, paragraphs or sentences that require prior knowledge of concepts that are not known at the moment of reading. The processing of the learning material will only take place then when the new information begins to slot in comfortably in the fabric of the reader's knowledge. You can then gradually proceed through this material and gradually build the understanding from basic or simple facts towards details or more complex components of knowledge. You will build understanding, resolve contradictions and ultimately creatively discover new truths about the learned material. Over time, you will optimize the structure of knowledge in your mind in terms of coherence, integrity, and representation. Incremental reading will make it possible to tackle the hardest material that might otherwise seem unreadable.

Uniform progress

Instead of focusing on a single subject of study, the student will review dozens of subject areas in a single day. Instead of monopolizing his or her knowledge with a single area of expertise, he or she will harmoniously deepen all facets of his knowledge in proportion to needs and/or interests. The growth of the knowledge tree will also be guided by the present level of understanding of individual subjects, in proportion to the growth of the supporting knowledge and specialist terminology. Instead of growing a few thick branches, the knowledge tree will grow twigs in all possible directions while still adding bulk to the trunk and main boughs. Incremental learning is inherently incapable of producing medical experts who have never heard of the Kuiper Belt, or astronomers who have no idea what constitutes a basic healthy diet. SuperMemo helps you prioritize the acquisition of knowledge in various fields. It also helps you fine-tune the balance between specialization and general knowledge. See also how SuperMemo prevents tunnel vision

Creativity boost

The key to creativity is an association of remote ideas. By studying multiple subjects in unpredictable order, you will increase your power to associate ideas. This will immensely improve your creativity. Incremental reading may be compared to brainstorming with yourself. SuperMemo will throw at you various articles, paragraphs, statements and questions in a most unexpected order. In the long run, the greatest creative advantage comes from knowledge permanently stored in your memory (as opposed to knowledge that requires Google). It is only a matter of creative effort and invested time before different pieces of knowledge can be associated to form new quality. This will also provide your brain with an entertaining form of mental training that will be highly appreciated in all forms of professions based on intellectual performance.

With incremental mail processing, it is also possible to mesh your learning, creative writing, and creative problem solving with a creative mail exchange with other people. This may appear helpful in collective problem solving or in complex projects when you need to strike a balance between focused individual work and pulling the team brains together. This process is called incremental brainstorming. Incremental brainstorming is slower, but it does not need synchronization (circadian rhythm, time zones, motivation, etc.), and you do not need to interrupt each other's work. Incremental brainstorming will never replace face-to-face interactive collaboration, however, it has many advantages associated with incremental learning (creativity, prioritization, attention, meticulousness, long-term viability, etc.). It may provide an excellent knowledge-based supplement, or be your best creative collaboration tool when working at a distance (esp. via different time zones). The creative process is unpredictable, and when you hit your best ideas when the rest of the team is asleep, it makes a good sense to strike the iron while hot: employ creative elaboration and send your idea out.

For more on the employment of incremental learning in the creative process see:

Consistency (resolving chaos and contradiction)

Contradiction and chaos in your learning material comes from bad sources, from errors, from disagreements in science, or from the fact that you start the process from importing a set of unrelated or even chaotic articles describing a studied complex problem.

If your learning material contains contradictory information, your brain will quickly alert you to this fact. In classical learning, you would often relearn new facts that would contradict earlier learned facts. Then you would relearn the older version again and this wasteful cycle might repeat more than once. In SuperMemo, the same process can take place; however, there will be two mechanisms that will turn chaos and contradiction into a self-limiting condition. The first mechanism relies on high retention of knowledge in SuperMemo that will often make you instantaneously spot the contradiction: Wait a minute! I have already learned this fact and the answer was different! Unfortunately, even SuperMemo isn't hermetic to contradiction (your retention actually never reaches 100%). The second mechanism is the convergence of contradictory material in time. If you, for example, learn two different answers to What is the size of human population?, say, 5.5 billion and 6 billion, you will naturally provide a wrong answer to one of these questions. Once you relearn it the new way, you will provide a wrong answer to the other question. Inter-repetition intervals for these two contradictory items will get shorter with each relearning cycle. The repetitions of contradictory items converge in time. Sooner or later, the red alert will be raised by your brain. You will quickly resolve the difference and delete one of the items. Similar process will affect hazy or incompletely specified information. Your knowledge will grow in consistency with time.

In scientific research, acquiring engineering knowledge, studying a narrow topic of interest, etc. we are constantly faced with a chaos of disparate and often contradictory statements. By introducing the chaos of new research into SuperMemo, you will gradually locate contradictions and strive at building better and more consistent models in your memory. Incremental reading stochastically juxtaposes pieces of information coming from various sources and uses the associative qualities of human memory to emphasize and then resolve contradiction. You will quickly lean towards theories that are better supported by research findings. Those supported poorly will be less firm and will often cause recall problems. Naturally, it may happen that you wish to learn contradictory statements too. For example, the opinions of dissenting scientists. In those cases, SuperMemo will help you emphasize the need of rich context. You will label individual statements with their proponent names or with the school of thought labels.


Observers and new users of SuperMemo believe that complexity of incremental reading must make it stressful. Some report that even reading about incremental learning is stressful. However, even though complexity always leads to a degree of stress or confusion, in the long-term, the opposite is true: SuperMemo helps you combat stress. Stressless learning is one of the greatest advantages of incremental learning. All the advantages listed in this section contribute to the sense of fun and relaxation. However, SuperMemo's ability to combat information overload might be the chief factor. Conversely, low stress levels have a miraculous impact on the effectiveness of learning.

Not everyone is stressed with information overload. There is a precondition for experiencing stress of having too much to read or too much to learn: obsessive hunger for knowledge, fear of not being able to keep up, pressing need for new knowledge, etc. This precondition is met in a great proportion of the general population according to a number of studies, and is actually less likely in younger individuals, including students, who are shielded from stress by their less crystallized motivation for learning.

The term Information Fatigue Syndrome has been coined recently to refer to stress coming from problems with managing overwhelming information. Some consequences of IFS listed by Dr. David Lewis, a British psychologist, include: anxiety, tension, procrastination, time-wasting, loss of job satisfaction, self-doubt, psychosomatic stress, breakdown of relationships, reduced analytical capacity, etc. The information era tends to overwhelm us with the amount of information we feel compelled to process. Incremental reading does not require all-or-nothing choices on articles to read. All-or-nothing choices are stressful! Can I afford to skip this article? For months I haven't had time to read this article! etc. SuperMemo helps you prioritize and skip articles partially (by decision) or automatically (i.e. behind the scenes). Oftentimes, reading 3% of an article may provide 50% of its reading value. Reading of articles may be delayed without your participation, i.e. not by stressful procrastination, but by a sheer competition with other pieces of information on the basis of their priority. In incremental reading, instead of hesitating or procrastinating, you simply prioritize.

If you happen to open a dozen of tabs in your web browser, you will often be stressed about the optimum course of action. You might be late for sleep, or late for work, and yet you do not want to lose the information. In SuperMemo, you just import&prioritize. Or just import. Nothing is lost. You will encounter the imported material as soon as your learning time allocations permit. Similarly, you can clear your 1,000 pieces mail Inbox in a few hours with all pieces of mail well prioritized and scheduled for review.

Once you know you can rely on SuperMemo in presenting review material for you, you can eliminate the stress and anxiety related to having too much to study or too much to read. You will never manage to read or learn all that you would hope for, but you will at least not lose sleep over planning and scheduling. SuperMemo is a promise of the best use of your potential. With this conviction, you can devote all your energy to comprehension, analysis and retention of the learned material.

SuperMemo helps you take away a big deal of information overload stress. In a typical IFS stress therapy, you will see that scrupulous notes, ordering one's desk, planning one's work, keeping a calendar of appointments, etc. all have a strong therapeutic value. SuperMemo does exactly the same: it helps you keep a scrupulous and well-prioritized record of what you want to read and takes away stressful chaos from the process of acquiring information and learning the collected material. SuperMemo eliminates disorder and the ensuing uncertainty that often characterizes wild searches for information on the net.


Human brain has an in-built limit on the attention span. We all get bored with things. This is particularly visible in kids. Limited attention helps maximize the learning input. This is why most toys have a short lifespan, and other kids' toys seem always more interesting. The same is true of reading. Even the best articles can become taxing if they get too long. Millions of people do a daily channel zapping on TV. This absurd activity is driven precisely by the craving for dense action and information variety. A gripping movie goes "too slow" for a typical channel zapper. This is why he or she prefers to watch three movies at the same time (even though the coherence of the plot of each will suffer). Incremental learning is a perfect remedy to the limited attention span. Even a single unlucky paragraph in an article may greatly reduce your enthusiasm for reading. If you stumble against a few frustrating paragraphs, you may gradually develop a dislike of reading a particular article. You may even become fed up with reading for the entire evening.

In incremental reading, once you sense any sign of boredom or distraction, you can jump to the next article with mostly positive side effects (expressed mainly in better memories produced by spaced learning). Unlike in channel zapping, you won't miss any information. Just the opposite, you will maximize attention per paragraph. Your attention to the same piece of information may depend on your mood, amount of prior reading, today's interest that may depend on the piece of news you heard on the morning radio, etc. With incremental reading, you can fit your best attention to each individual piece of reading. You can change the approach depending on your circadian status (i.e. the time of the day, mental energy, etc.). You can deprioritize articles that undermine attention. You can split intimidating articles into more manageable portions. The boost in attention is one of the main reasons why incremental reading is more fun than ordinary reading.


Everything we learn must be reviewed from time to time in order to be remembered. If you read an article in intervals, you already begin the consolidation of memory which may save you lots of time. In traditional reading, you would need to read the whole article, and then to review the article later several times. With earlier releases of SuperMemo, you would need to read the whole article, and then only review the most important parts of the article in SuperMemo at intervals determined by the program. Now you can begin the consolidation-review cycle already during reading! Incremental reading combines the process of extracting pieces of valuable knowledge with memory consolidation. This pre-consolidation will often dramatically reduce the number of repetitions required before your material gets to be reviewed in long intervals of months and years. By the time you convert parts of the material into clozes or question-answer items, you will already have it well-consolidated. This consolidation will be based on solid context, a degree of redundancy (that helps retention), and an easy-to-remember formulation based on cloze deletion. Extracting pieces of information from a larger body of knowledge provides your items with all the relevant context. This slow process of jelling out knowledge produces an enhanced sense of meaning and applicability of individual pieces of information. Semantically equivalent pieces of information may be consolidated in varying contexts adding additional angles to their associative power. In other words, not only will you remember better. You will also be able to view the same information from different perspectives.


You always have a long queue of articles to read, and there are always more articles to read than you can ever hope to remember. In incremental reading, you can precisely determine the priority of each article, paragraph, sentence or question. Evaluating articles and prioritizing them is difficult because you cannot do a good evaluation without actually reading a part of the article in question. In incremental reading, you can read the introduction and then decide when to read the rest. If an article is extremely valuable or interesting, you can process it entirely at once. Other articles can slowly scramble through the learning process. Yet others may ultimately be deleted. The prioritization will continue while you are reading the article. If the evaluation of quality or content changes while reading, so will the reading-review schedule.

Prioritization tools will ensure that important pieces of information will receive better processing. This will maximize the value of your reading time. This will also reduce the impact of material overflow on retention. You will always remember the desired proportion of your top-priority material. While the lesser priority material may suffer more from the overflow and be remembered less accurately. Priority of articles is not set in stone. You can modify it manually while reading in proportion to the value you extract from a given article. The priority will also change automatically each time you generate article extracts. It will change if you delay or advance scheduled reading. The priority of extracts is determined by the priority of articles. The priority of questions and answers produced from individual sentences is determined by their parenting extracts. Multiple prioritization tools will help you effectively deal with massive changes in your learning focus. With the prioritization tools you can always determine your learning focus in numbers!

This is one of the most important things about incremental reading: efficient fishing for pieces of golden knowledge!

Speed (of reading)

Incremental readers can beat speed readers in the speed of reading! This is true even for relative beginners with little or no speed-reading training. The caveat: all that is possible at the cost of delayed comprehension. In speed-reading, you always need to worry about the comprehension level. High comprehension is where speed-reading skills are vital. However, in incremental reading, you can quickly skim through less important portions of the text without worrying you will miss a detail. The skimmed fragment will be scheduled for later review. You can optionally determine when the review will happen and at what priority (low priority review may be delayed further, often automatically). You can quickly jump from paragraph to paragraph, get the overall picture, mark fragments for later reading, mark fragments for detailed study, etc. This speed-reading method, with a bit of training, is stress free. You will eliminate the greatest bottleneck of speed-reading: fear of missing important pieces of information. When you come back to the skimmed fragments in the future, they may have already become irrelevant or less important. That is one of a savings in time generated by incremental reading. You always focus on top priority material and you spend little time worrying about things that are left for later reading. Incremental reading is speed-reading without the loss of comprehension. Once you speed-read the entire article, you can slowly digest it again from the very beginning in the incremental reading process. Needless to say, speed-reading is not a patch on incremental reading when it comes to long-term retention. Memories are always subject to forgetting. Whatever valuable information you gather while reading may be forgotten at any time. Pieces that would be retained without SuperMemo (e.g. through regular use), produce minimum workload. Other pieces will allow you to never need to come back to the article in question again. In conclusion, all knowledge that you need in the long-run, should be best acquired via incremental reading. Traditional reading can still be used for entertainment, temporary knowledge (e.g. how to install a sound board), curiosity (e.g. news), etc. This is not to say that speed-reading skills are not useful in incremental reading. If you are already a solid speed-reader, you can add to your speed and comprehension with the help of incremental reading. In the process, you will hone your skills further and become even a faster reader.

Speed (of formulating items)

Cloze deletion is the fastest tool for converting texts into items. In addition to massive imports, you can introduce your own rough notes into SuperMemo and later gradually convert them into well-structured knowledge. Less important material may remain unstructured and, as such, less well-remembered. You will see how passive notes gradually fade in your memory and how their individual components will need to be reinforced by formulating specific well-structured items. You will make such reinforcement decisions on the one-by-one basis depending on the importance of the fading material and the degree of recall problems. Naturally, due to a typical learning overflow, you will always neglect some portions of the material. This is how you will gain additional speed understood as the time invested per item. You will generate items faster, re-formulate them with greater ease, and save additional time by neglecting less important material. This is prioritization via formulation. Less important material will remain in a less processed and messier state characterized by lower retention.


With well-prioritized stream of information, you are served knowledge in smaller chunks. This makes it possible to truly focus on most important pieces and discover things that would never get noticed in the mass of voluminous learning. Good attention brings meticulousness and creative discovery. In other words, this is a marriage of prioritization, attention, and creativity advantages with a new twist: noticing things that are hard to notice in massive learning.


With massive incremental reading, you will hone a set of skills that are vital for efficient learning. By repeating the same procedures over and over again, day in and day out, over the months and years, you will become a master of processing and retaining knowledge! If you want things well done, do them often. Here are some example of skills that will get a boost and change your learning:

Knowledge database

Once your collection grows rich in materials from various domains, you can use it before you use Google to search for information about a subject within the material that you already want to learn. The search results will not be as rich, but they will be far more focused on the areas of your interest. While doing search&review, you will be able to reduce the future workload in many areas. This is fun!

All-in-one archive

Once you become proficient with SuperMemo you can use it as an all-encompasing archive of all your media files. Those files do not need to be part of the learning process, however, you can combine archiving functions with the incremental process (e.g. when annotating your family photo album collection). SuperMemo may be a great way to get rid of those dusty paper documents, tape recorder cassettes, CDs, photo albums, school notebooks, etc. You can archive this in dedicated folders on your computer and import it all to SuperMemo. Incremental processing of archive has many advantages. For example, while annotating family pictures from two centuries ago, you can fill in the gaps in information by simple face recognition that may rely on a degree of learning or creative juxtaposition of photographs from different sources in close intervals. Incremental audio can also convert your jukebox SuperMemo into a stream of music with a maximized fun factor. There are millions of ways of sorting tracks on your media player device, by filename, by date, by annotation, by priority, by recent viewing... all that does not compare to the incremental review process. This is because the quality of your experience when processing music or photos is based on the same forgetting mechanisms that affect learning. You want to see or listen to some things more often than others, but not too often. Forgetting is the key to experiencing music or imagery or videos again and again with a heightened degree of fun, pleasure and, last but not least, learning.


The sense of productivity might be one of the most satisfying emotions. This is why incremental learning should be highly enjoyable. This only magnifies its powers. To experience the elation of incremental learning, you may need a few months of focused practice. You will first have to start with the basic tools and techniques. Then you will need to master knowledge representation skills. Finally, you will need a couple of months of heavy-load incremental learning to perfect the details and develop your own "incremental learning philosophy". You will also need to grow your collection as size matters for the fun of learning. Last but not least, incremental learning requires good language skills, some touch-typing skills, and patience (SuperMemo will often want you to go against your own intuition). Although the material is originally imported from electronic sources, it always needs to be molded, shortened, provided with context clues, restructured for wording and grammar, etc. The skills involved are not trivial and require practice.

If you have used SuperMemo and/or spaced repetition, you may have concluded that learning with SuperMemo is boring due to its repetitive nature. Those who can compare the classic SuperMemo with incremental learning will testify that incremental learning is by far more fun. In contrast to classic SuperMemo, where you focus on the review of the old material, incremental reading interweaves the old with the new. Novelty adds to the fun and efficiency of learning. Incremental learning is by far more challenging and colorful than typical repetitions. In addition to review and reading, you can import rich graphics, audio and video to spice up your learning process.

In the end, you risk becoming seriously addicted to incremental learning. The statement "I do not read books" should no longer be considered in a negative light! As long as you keep incremental learning in rational check, it will benefit you and others around you.


Most of disadvantages of incremental learning come from factors that are a disadvantage in nearly all human pursuits: opportunity and overhead costs. However, there are also disadvantages that come from the fact that incremental learning is not for everyone. Poor selection of knowledge may result in wasting time on low-quality learning. Moreover, incremental learning may lead to frustration, stress, addiction, compulsive use, and other undesirable effects on user's psychology.

Here is the short list of disadvantages to consider:

Some people will never use incremental learning

Adoption of incremental learning in the year 2013 is poor. It is not for its disadvantages. It is much more about human nature, busy lives, stress, poor sleep, as well as about Incremental learning myths. To find out why, read: Incremental learning is not for everyone.