Ari: Today we are talking with Andrew Cohen of Brainscape.
Andrew: Hi, how you doing Ari?
Ari: Thanks for taking the time; first of all just tell everybody
what Brainscape is.
Andrew: Brainscape is a mobile education platform that helps you
learn things faster based on cognitive science. At the core of
the system is the fact that spacing the repetition of various
items is the single most important factor in how well you're
going to remember something. As you study items in
Brainscape, whether it’s national capitals or Spanish verb
conjugation or Supreme Court cases or medical diagrams,
Brainscape is sure to repeat the concepts in a pattern that
makes sense to your brain based on your own competence,
Ari: So, we’re talking about accelerating learning which is always
something that is appealing to the audience. If you're
improving your performance and you're making more space
in your brain, ideally, you want to be able to do something
with it. So, accelerated learning has a huge [1:10] and
languages are kind of where I think people go to first. I do
personally use Brainscape to improve my French and start
from scratch in learning Spanish. I've actually used it now
for US capitals and some South American capitals. It’s
basically kind of a flash card system on steroids but one of
the questions that I have is the uniqueness obviously, which
if people haven’t seen the app you will explain this, is that
you self-rate how well you understand the information,
Andrew: That’s right.
Ari: So, why is that important?
Andrew: For a couple of reasons. Number one if you wanted to have
a system that grades you and tells you whether each concept
is right or wrong, that involves either multiple choice where
it’s just recognition. That’s been proven to be a far less
effective learning strategy than active recall which is you
actively remembering the answer without seeing it on a list
of multiple choices. The other alternative would be just
type input. So, you would type the national capital or
whatever it is that you're trying to learn. That might work
for certain one word answers or vocabulary but it wouldn’t
work for something like explain the causes of World War 1.
So, if by asking you to think about the answer and if you
can reveal it, you're being honest with yourself. You're
actively recalling the information which is in the deeper
layer than just recognition. Then, by grading your own
confidence you're evaluating that sense of knowledge at a
deeper level by asking yourself, do I truly know this well
enough to remember the next time I'm asked? That double
layer of self-assessment helps deepen that initial memory
before you even take it into account the system of repetition.
Ari: The great thing about that, obviously, we’re differentiating
between memorization and actually understanding.
Memorization works in lots of situations but if you don’t
understand the greater concept you don’t really engrain that
then it’s don’t going to be nearly as useful to you for daily
activities or even future business or personal aspirations.
Where is this content coming from? Are you guys creating
all of this or how does it work?
Andrew: Brainscape offers both a content [3:45] platform if you want
to create your own flash cards. Let’s say you're in biology
class and even invite your friends or if you're a teacher, your
students to collaboratively create all that content. Once
you're in the playpen and you're creating and sharing you
notice that we have a marketplace of great, premium content
that’s created by experts around the world. In a pure form,
Brainscape is flash cards – as you mentioned – that yourself
or your or your friends or that experts create. We do want to
make sure it’s still integrated into a more holistic learning
experience. We obviously realize that flashcards can never
be the sole way you learn anything. If it’s a language you
need to be having real conversation with people obviously or
reading for comprehension. If you're learning things for
medical school you need to be doing hands on activities with
cadavers or patients and case studies just to truly wrap your
head around it. There’s a knowledge component to every
subject. By optimizing that, Brainscape helps get the
memorization pieces out of the classroom and really fulfill
our time that we have with other people and our educators to
be truly more valuable and project based like the learner.
Ari: So, one of the questions that I have actually going through
this all was since it’s space repetition which is really this
idea that there's certain intervals where if you repeat
information it’s going to get engrained better. When I rate
myself when I'm going through the different lessons, I feel
like I tend to do it very quickly. Like I can do something,
click it – say it’s a three – and move on. Does that affect
the spacing or how well you get it even if you race through it
a little bit even if you really feel like you're understanding
Andrew: That’s a great question; I think it ties into the broader
question of are there other inputs that we can use to
determine how soon the user needs to review the pieces of
information again other than just the user’s competence?
The first part of that answer is that we’re actually
remarkably good at assessing our own competence, even when
we’re quick about it. There’s lots of studies that show that,
that were pretty accurate in knowing how well we are at
remembering something for a while. Even in cases where
we’re not or in cases where we’re just reading quickly and
may not be perfect. There's other factors that come into play
of how quickly you're going to rate. Maybe some people or
the same person over time, if they know it really well they’ll,
man, I know that! Or of course I don’t know that, and I’ll give
you the one and make it very quickly. Whereas, some
people just second guess themselves if they didn’t get the piece
of information [6:42]. If you're using that route with
consistency to gauge how well the user really knows it isn’t
really the perfect complementary measure; seeing how long it
took them to answer the question. With that said, we can
use other metrics based on the crowd. The more data we
have about certain subjects or certain items in a subject, the
more we’ll be able to objectively determine is this a
statistically difficult concept because lots of users say wait
until the one first time they see it or is it statistically an easy
concept where people generally tend to upgrade their
confidence quickly? We can use that crowd determined
ease of information as another really important metric in the
optimization of your overall study patterns.
Ari: I see. How complex of information will this work for?
Obviously with flash cards, like you said, it’s not just one or
two word answers like, what's the cause of World War 1 but
this’ll work for audio stuff and visual stuff, too, right?
Andrew: You can have flashcards that are a diagram like a medical
diagram or a map on the front and you identify it. Or,
image recognition, language, politician. We have music
theory content that have interval training activities and
chord recognition activities specifically, do you know what
chord this is?, with the answer on the other side identifying
it and then, how well did I know that? There's other types
of media. Even if you think complex concepts that could be
in a science or history class can in fact be flashcardalized.
I think the sometimes backlash you get for memorization or
for general practice and education is really better placed
something about it. People are against memorizing trivial
knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and I totally agree with
that. Nobody should be making flashcards to memorize a
date; that was a proverbial example that [9:01] teachers use.
We shouldn’t be teaching kids to memorize dates on
flashcards. But you can take a concept, like the example I
mentioned earlier what were the causes of World War 1?
The answer could be three bullets on the backside or the
answer to some complex question could be a single main
answer with two supplementary paragraphs and very small
text underneath. So, it’s really the art of taking complex
subjects and breaking them into their component parts so
that you can then review test complexity in flashcards that
are just right side of the morsel as they're willing to do.
Ari: The possibilities actually are I think very, very exciting.
There's that subject that you always wanted to learn but just
didn’t have the time or didn’t really know a method. This
universally seems to work really, really well. After I tried
it, I recommended it to several other people and everybody
had a really positive experience whether it was brushing up
on a subject that they were already familiar with or starting
something completely new to them. Again, the possibilities
for brain expansion are amazing. Andrew, the last
question I always like to ask people on the podcast is what
are your personal, top three productivity tips that just help
you be more awesome?
Andrew: I was afraid you'd ask me that and having to make
recommendations to Ari Meisel who’s written a book on that
stuff is a challenge. But, I might recycle some of the stuff
that you’ve [10:43] to have. The first one was just a couple
of years ago really transformed my productivity was
committing to stay in box zero or at least in box five on a
consistent basis at the end of every day, if possible. That
involves taking the OHIO method, Only Handle it Once,
whether it’s responding right away, archiving or deleting
junk just get it out of my inbox or put it on a task list.
That’s number one. Number two is recommit to learning
keyboard shortcuts. Even Gmail has, and I'm sure a lot of
people don’t know and you can enable them. Giving
yourself 10 to 15 minutes per software program you use
whether it’s Excel, whether it’s in a browser, whether it’s
your Mac or Windows navigation system; take 10 minutes for
each of them to just drill yourself on those keyboard
shortcuts. There are many more that you probably could be
using that you don’t realize. We did, at Brainscape, a
keyboard shortcut awareness week about 2 years ago and
calculated the amount of time that we lose, even if it’s just
one minute or one second per minute of lost productivity by
not using keyboard shortcuts. We’re losing 8 years or 8 days
of productivity per year of every one minute of lost work;
that’s a lot….
Ari: Is there a keyboard shortcut module on Brainscape?
Andrew: There actually is. If you go Brainscape’s market under
technology and then look at keyboard shortcuts, you can get
the whole package or you can get even individual ones for
the different subjects. I don’t if just flashcards alone is the
best way to memorize keyboard shortcuts but it’s a great way
to drain your downtime on the subway or whatever, drill
yourself, get them into your head, and then implement them
next time you're at a depth. The third one… So, staying in
box zero, learn keyboard shortcuts, and then the third one is
borrowed from Keith Ferrazzi’s phrase, never eat alone.
Every day try to make a point of proactively reaching out to
someone who is awesome and you'd like to meet. Sometimes
that’s hard. Sometimes that takes some leg work and some
hustle but reach out to the person, have a reason why you
want to talk to them: to pick their brain about something or
possible offer something for them. The strength of your
network is directly proportional to your value whether it’s as
an entrepreneur or marketer or even a teacher or anything.
The more people you know, the more serendipity, awesome
things will happen for you as a result with less and less need
on your part.
Ari: Andrew, those are actually really, really great ones. In box
zero is one that comes up a lot and I'm glad to hear because it
always re-enforces the point but nobody has ever mentioned
keyboard shortcuts which is directly relatable to be able to
save time and you get quantification for that; so, I love that
one. No one’s ever mentioned that idea of reaching out to
somebody awesome every day and I think that is a really,
really important point. First of all, you can’t have a hope if
you don’t even try. If you're surrounding yourself with
people who are doing cool things or doing better things than
you think you are, you have a really good chance of having
some of that rub off on you. I think those are really, really
great suggestions and they're very actionable to people
listening to the podcast. Anyway, with that, Andrew, tell
everybody where they can find out more.
Andrew: I definitely will.
Ari: No, give us the URL where they can find out more about
Andrew: I'm sorry; you cut out for a second. Brainscape is at
brainscape.com or you can simply follow us on Twitter
@brainscape to keep abreast of what we’re doing and just our
thoughts on the education technology and cognitive science
revolution in general. Of course, download our app on
iTunes, it is free; Brainscape.
Ari: Great. Well, Andrew thank you so much. Thank you for
helping people revolutionize the way that they learn things
and I hope to keep learning.
Andrew: Thank you, Ari, and we’re glad that you're using Brainscape.