Finally, EdTech That’s Based On Real Research

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Imagine you’re walking down the street when your phone buzzes. “What is the capital of Maryland?” it asks you. You know the answer but you can’t quite grasp it until all of a sudden you remember: “Annapolis.” The question prompted your brain just in time.

That is the scenario envisaged by the makers of software Cerego, which launched last week, writes Hal Hodson in New Scientist:

“It uses a basic principle of cognitive science called ‘spaced repetition’ to improve learning. To remember something long term, a student must return to it several times, increasing the interval between each revision. The concept isn’t new, but Cerego aims to harness the idea to let people learn anytime, anywhere.

‘The amount of information we need to retain is growing rapidly,’ says Cerego co-founder Andrew Smith Lewis. ‘Current solutions do a fine job of bringing information to the screen, but we’re not seeing much on how we learn.’ Smith Lewis says Cerego’s grand ambition is to ‘handle learning and relearning for the duration of the user’s lifetime.’

From the moment you log on to Cerego on a tablet or PC, the software tracks every move you make, learning about you: how long you take to answer questions, how much faster you answer when you’ve seen a question before, which questions you skip and which questions you get wrong. That information is analysed to work out when you next need to see each piece of information.

If you quickly and correctly give the capital of Maryland, for example, the system might wait two or three days before quizzing you on that fact again, and then double the interval after another correct answer. If you are wrong, the item may come up every few minutes until you improve.

‘It’s all very plausible and reasonable. They know their literature,’ says Ryan Baker, an educational technology researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. ‘I haven’t seen any commercial products that put  together all these different things.’

Cerego doesn’t yet have any published results to back up the claims made for the product. But Smith Lewis says they are working on this, and points to preliminary tests on language acquisition, run over five weeks at the University of Hawaii and reviewed by Cerego’s scientific adviser, Jan Plass at New York University.

In those tests, users improved their retention of factual material by a factor of three compared to a visually identical system that didn’t run the spacing algorithm.” (Read more here.)

There’s a lot of unscientific bunk out there being used to sell “brain training” programs and the like. I’m glad to see that scientific research on learning is beginning to be incorporated into technological products.

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2 Responses to “Finally, EdTech That’s Based On Real Research”

  1. Casper H. says:

    The spacing effect has been known since Ebbinghaus discovered it (and wrote about it in 1885). Using the spacing effect in education was argued for by Dempsey (1988). See http://andrewvs.blogs.com/usu/files/the_spacing_effect.pdf

  2. Jason Prokop says:

    Memrise.com does the same thing.

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