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How Does the Sans Forgetica Font Improve Memory?

Here's something you can explore with your students in a number of ways. It might also give them an idea on how to study more effectively.


Sans Forgetica is a scientifically designed font created to help students remember their study notes. The font was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of academics and researchers from the school of design and the Behavioral business lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia (RMIT University).


As a way of eliciting desirable difficulty, the font has been specifically designed to be less easy to read than commonly used typefaces such as Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Times New Roman etc.


First introduced by Robert Bjork in 1994, desirable difficulty relates to the robust finding that minor obstructions which slow down learning in the short-term, allows for deeper cognitive processing and, therefore, better memory retention in the long-term.


VIDEO (Using Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning, Dr. Robert Bjork)



One of the really thought-provoking aspects of desirable difficulty is that it requires both instructors and learners to embrace a long-term (and ultimately much more effective) approach to learning versus an immediate sense of improvement. This can be seen as unintuitive and unappealing. As Bjork notes: 


Students can be unhappy with you as a teacher if you introduce some of these things because their own performance will improve more slowly or put the other side of it, if you do things that make performance improve very rapidly but then don't support long term learning, students could learn to be quite happy with that; who doesn't want to make rapid progress or apparent rapid progress, so this poses sort of a challenge.


There are a number of ways that you could introduce your students to Sans Forgetica. You could simply recommend that they download the font and try it out for themselves. You could introduce it as part of a class on the principles of cognitive psychology or the science of learning. Or how about asking your students to design a simple experiment to test Sans Forgetica, where the independent variable is type of font and the dependent variable is number of items recalled from a passage of text?



Huge thanks to Liz Avery at Arden University for introducing me to Sans Forgetica.

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