The future of e-learning is being shaped as we speak in New York City, where Andrew Cohen, Founder and CEO of Brainscape, is at the helm of this forward-thinking study platform. Brainscape’s electronic flash card system is centered upon confidence-based repetition of cards; after you view the answer you have the opportunity to rate how well you understood it.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Andrew Cohen about Brainscape, its history, and its future. I learned that although Brainscape tries to “game-ify” the learning experience, it does not try to be a gaming platform and include all sorts of unnecessary gimmicks like other e-learning platforms do. Cohen explained, “The number one thing is a focus on quantification of learning and guiding you towards the path that’s most optimal towards your learning. Brainscape is cradling you in its hands, guiding you towards your goal of learning.” Brainscape trusts that the user is motivated and does not force anything on the learner that the learner isn’t prepared to accept.
At Brainscape’s core is the Self-Assessment component as well as its Confidence-Based Repetition (CBR) of cards that you may not have been too sure about. The minds over at Brainscape have put a significant amount of research into the best ways to acquire and retain the knowledge in the most efficient possible way. The way it works is that after you reveal the answer on the back of the card, you choose, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well you knew the answer. Choosing a 1 means that you had no idea what the answer was, and a 5 means that you totally got it. Brainscape uses this feedback to remember which cards you had trouble with and knows how often to repeat those troublesome cards until you increase your confidence in the answer. There’s a whole lot more I could go into on this topic, but I’ll let Brainscape explain the research behind it’s methods to you on their website.
You may be asking yourself, “Self, what makes Brainscape that much better than the other learning platforms out there?” And that’s a damn good question, reader. I posed that question to Cohen, and here’s a few ways that sets Brainscape apart from the competition:
- “Brainscape has content generated from compensated learning experts who craft the learning experience through Brainscape.” That’s the biggest advantage Brainscape has going for it, in my mind. You’ve got experts in their field who are providing their knowledge to you through brainscape. I asked Cohen how users can trust that these experts are the real deal. He told me, “We seek people who are certified experts (and/or educators, tutors, etc.) AND can prove to us that they are capable of creating great content. We vet people heavily through flashcard-creation tests.”
- The flash card sets in Brainscape’s system are constantly being updated based on newer information. If a certification exam, for instance, is completely overhauled, Brainscape will ensure that their content partners update the card sets appropriately. So, you can be sure that you’re not studying outdated material. Users can also request edits to specific cards if they come across anything questionable. In this case, Brainscape will immediately forward the question on to their content partners and the cards in question will be updated.
- Where appropriate, Brainscape includes multimedia in their flash cards, whether it’s audio or video, to enhance the learning experience.
- Although Brainscape contains card sets for almost all levels of education, Brainscape is geared towards higher education and professional exams.
- While users can generate their own card sets, the Brainscape platform is not littered with user-created card sets that may or may not have any value to the learner. All card sets are created and kept privately. However, you can choose to share your card sets with friends or colleagues quickly and easily.
In terms of downside, being a newer platform, Brainscape does not have as large of a selection of card sets available right now compared to some of the other learning platforms. However, this is also attributable to the fact that Brainscape is picky with their content partners and are focused on providing high-quality card sets rather than quantity of card sets.
Brainscape all started with CEO Andrew Cohen and his need to learn many different languages at the same time at his old job at World Bank. In his desperation to become fluent as quickly and efficiently as possible, he created a Microsoft Excel macro, which he used to quiz himself. And from that lowly little macro, the idea for Brainscape was born. To pursue his idea, Andrew got a master’s degree in Education Technology with a focus in Cognitive Science from Columbia University. Andrew pulled together quite a team, with the Chief Product Officer, Andy Lutz, who used to be the VP of Product at The Princeton Review, as well as the Chief Technology Officer, Jeff Holliday, who was the head of TurboTax’s iOS platform at Intuit and created the very popular flash card app called Flashcardlet.
When I asked Cohen about his vision of Brainscape’s future, I was let in on his very lofty goal, “The plan is to map the entire globe of learning.” Brainscape wants you to be able to come to them to learn everything you need to, whether it’s a language, computer engineering, cooking, you name it. Another part of Brainscape’s future is Android. Although Brainscape is PC/Mac and iOS only, Brainscape recognizes that there is a need for Brainscape on Android. There have been many Google searches for the term “Brainscape Android,” so Cohen knows it has to happen. However, the timing of the jump to Android is still unknown. The folks at Brainscape still feel that they have a lot of work to do on the iOS platform and are afraid of spreading themselves too thin, but do plan on expanding to Android when the time is right.
Whether or not you’re ready to jump on the Brainscape bandwagon is your own choice, but their 7-million app downloads so far tell a tale of true staying power. Only time will tell, but I will enjoy watching Brainscape expand over the years and can’t wait to see what’s next.