Educational app maker Duolingo launched a stand-alone flashcard learning app this week making it the company’s first step to move beyond language learning. Is Tinycards going to be a success of similar size like Duolingo’s massively popular language learning apps, or is it more of a trojan horse that aims at taking over the brain training vertical?
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Nestor Kiourtzidis. He is the co-founder of Linguahouse.com and develops online resources for EFL/ESL teachers as well as learners of English and other languages.
It’s a familiar problem among language learners and teachers… the lesson goes well, there is plenty of interaction – satisfaction all round. However, the following week the students can barely recognize the new words from the lesson, much less use them in a sentence.
Clearly, the key to genuine, long-term vocabulary acquisition is revision, an activity for which little guidance is given and which many learners find laborious and discouraging.
What happens on the outside
Traditionally, language students have been advised to record new vocabulary in a notebook to review outside of the classroom. Although this is a tried and true study method, many learners tend to revise easy items more often than they should and more difficult items not frequently enough. And in preparation for a test or exam, they often resort to ‘cramming’ (intense, last-minute studying). These habits result in inefficient use of the student’s time and poor long-term memory retention.
Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible to optimize the revision process. The technique is called ‘spaced repetition’, and its foundations date back to the 19th century.
The forgetting curve
Noted German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) conducted extensive experimentation with lists of ‘nonsense words’. He discovered that the rate at which we start to forget a recently learnt or reviewed ‘item’ of knowledge follows a predictable pattern or curve. Significantly, the process of forgetting slows with each subsequent review and with time increasingly less frequent reviews are needed in order to permanently recall an item of any level of difficulty.
Since Herr Ebbinghaus’ time, sophisticated algorithms have been developed to calculate the optimum intervals between each repetition or review, minimizing the number of necessary repetitions and maximizing the period of memory retention. Early experiments were based on plain paper flashcards. Students were first shown the question part of a flashcard and then, depending on their response, the flashcard was scheduled for future review.
Unfortunately, due to the inconvenience and time-consuming nature of creating physical flashcards and manually scheduling their review, spaced repetition was rendered completely impractical for everyday use – until the arrival of the Digital Age.
Back to the future
A number of offline and online applications now harness these powerful spaced learning algorithms. Most of them offer prefabricated sets of electronic flashcards for review and some even offer users the option to create their own flashcards. Typically, the user runs the software every day. The application displays a flashcard question and the user attempts to recall the answer from memory. After giving it his/her best shot, the user clicks a button to display the answer and clicks a further button to score the response – e.g. from 0 (no idea) to 5 (instant recall). The software then schedules the flashcard to be shown again on a future date, which it calculates from the user’s scoring history. The user continues the review until there are no more items scheduled for that particular day.
Spaced repetition software greatly enhances rote learning and, according to some claims, makes the process 10-50 times faster. In addition, electronic flashcards can incorporate multimedia elements such as audio, images and even animation, strengthening the formation of memories and making the reviews more enjoyable.
Currently, spaced learning apps are designed for independent self-study. However, language learning courses of the future may well incorporate spaced repetition as part of a blended learning system. The new words and structures are first introduced, explained and practised in the face-to-face lesson, thus reducing the drawbacks of rote learning (i.e. students reviewing what they do not understand). With the proliferation of laptops, smart phones and other mobile devices, revision applications are a logical and convenient progression in learning languages (and perhaps other subjects). So as much as the trusty vocabulary notebook is a staple item in the classroom, it could soon go the way of the telegraph.
At Linguahouse.com we have attempted to pioneer this integrated approach by publishing downloadable EFL/ESL worksheets for teachers together with sets of multimedia question-and-answer flashcards for students. Each worksheet has a unique lesson code which students use to access the revision material. The online flashcard application, called Expemo, uses an adaptive algorithm to calculate the optimum intervals between each flashcard repetition, based on the student’s current progress with the material. Development is underway to roll out the system for iphone and Android mobile devices, which is expected around autumn of this year.
Two days ago, I read about the new Evernote Peek app for iPad on every major tech blog. It is the first application to see the smart cover for iPad as an integral part of the device and not only an accessory and therefore using it as part of the core functionality of the application.
According to the Evernote blog, the idea for the app was born during a flight when Andrew Sinkov and Phil Libin played around with the just released iPad 2 and its “magical” smart cover.
As we sat there opening and closing the cover, a question struck us: could we use the cover to control an app that would make Evernote even more useful?
[iframe width=”600″ height=”371″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/vqVjruCt6yg?rel=0″]
What most blogs didn’t mention though is that Evernote launched the app together with StudyBlue as content provider as both startups partnered in May already.
So, I invited Becky Splitt, CEO of StudyBlue and she was so nice and agreed to do a quick interview with me on that occasion.
[iframe src=”http://blip.tv/play/hI85gsGfOAA.html” width=”600″ height=”473″]
She points out that the team at StudyBlue definitely sees great potential in iPads as the future learning device and that it would only be a matter of months until we’ll see a much wider adoption, also in the classroom.
Although StudyBlue haven’t yet developed an iPad native application themselves to complete their own offer, often described as the backpack for studying on the Internet, the Evernote partnership is a great opportunity for them to learn about the use of iPads and to gain data.
The Evernote Peek app is free to download and it just looks and feels great. It also hit the #1 spot on the iTunes App Store in the free education apps section yesterday.
As I mentioned in the interview, right after it I went out and bought a smart cover for my iPad. I did not have much time to play around with it yet but on the other hand it’s pretty straight forward. You download the app, login with your Evernote account and you are ready to go. There are a couple of sets to start with provided by Evernote and StudyBlue.
And finally, below you can watch a short StudyBlue video that shows the syncing process and how the majority of their users are using the integration at that time.
[iframe width=”600″ height=”371″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/IghJYpvSFWQ?rel=0″]
For this episode of EDUKWEST I invited an education start-up from Wisconsin called StudyBlue. That’s definitely a first time experience for me and in itself makes them unique already.
I had the chance to skype with StudyBlue’s CEO Becky Splitt and a little in the interview you’ll get a product demo by their Director of Learning, Matt Messinger.
StudyBlue wants to be the student’s backpack on the Internet as Matt calls it providing them with all the tools including mobile solutions to make note taking, storage of notes and flashcard learning as convenient as possible.
StudyBlue currently concentrate on schools, colleges and universities in the United States but as they are very well funded it can only be a matter of time until they are going to think of spreading across the globe.
I see Higher Education becoming more interesting for start-ups recently, linking serious learning with a social layer.
The flashcard, note taking and sharing market is a competitive one, of course, ranging from solutions like smart.fm and their change in focus to CoboCards, a more specialized solution in the DACH market to Livemocha as the first language learning community adding user generated flashcards to its offer.
I’m almost sure that this will not be a winner takes it all market segment but execution and eventually substantial funding will help StudyBlue in the growing competition.
I would also like to point you to a KWestions with Matt Messinger when we’ll be talking about the difference of flashcards as a feature and a stand-alone solution later this week.
|UoPeople on Facebook:||http://www.facebook.com/studyblue|
|UoPeople on Twitter:||@StudyBlue|
For EDUKWEST episode 45 I invited Andreas Schroeter, co-founder of German start-up bab.la. We dedicated our talk to bab.la itself including a product demo of course but I felt it would be particularly interesting to give it a twist by talking about the daily routine of Andreas as entrepreneur, his networking and also bab.la’s social media strategy which is one of the more interesting ones on the education market.
To describe the product briefly. Their core product is an online dictionary available in various different language combinations yet there is much more to discover as there are vocabulary games, tests and a community available on the platform. An interesting fact is that bab.la (founded in 2007) is as one of the very few education start-ups profitable yet. Their revenue mainly comes from advertising displayed in an not too aggressive manor on the site. Additional revenue comes from iPhone applications for some of their dictionaries as well as premium accounts.
As mentioned above the latter part of the interview is focused on being a start-up founder in Hamburg and the importance of social media as well as looking beyond our education market to find new inspiration and ideas to push bab.la forward as a company.
I recommend to read their excellent blog lexiophiles.com and to join them on Facebook and Twitter.
|bab.la on Twitter:||@babla|
|bab.la dictionary on Twitter:||@babladict|
|Andreas on Twitter:||@schroetera|