Today I got to interview Andrew Cohen from Brainscape! I hope you enjoy it!
Links from the show:
Ari: Today we are talking with Andrew Cohen of Brainscape. Welcome, Andrew
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, really.
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, right?
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 it?
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 Brainscape.
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. Thanks again.