Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Andrew Cohen, founder and CEO of the smart flashcard platform Brainscape.
Last month, I was honored to be interviewed on Kirsten Winkler’s blog as part of her series about web and mobile “flashcard” applications. As the founder of Brainscape – a new type of flashcard engine – I naturally spoke of flashcards’ tremendous usefulness as a complement to a more interactive curriculum, including vocabulary, supplementary facts, etc.
Today, however, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight how Brainscape has used the latest in cognitive science techniques to actually teach a language from scratch. Our new app Brainscape Spanish applies a revolutionary new type of language-acquisition approach that we call Intelligent Cumulative Exposure (ICE).
ICE leverages the convenience of the virtual flashcard to combine grammar, sentence construction, and audio pronunciation into an incremental and comprehensive language-learning experience. The secret to the methodology can be found in the precise pattern that ICE introduces new concepts. It essentially works in three simple, repetitive steps:
(1)Brainscape asks you to translate a particular sentence (e.g. “I have two siblings”) into Spanish – where the single underlined word is the only concept that has not yet been introduced in previous flashcards.
(2)Brainscape reveals the correct translation (Tengo dos hermanos) on the back of the flashcard, and explains or annotates the new concept in smaller text. (e.g. “Although the word hermano usually means ‘brother’ when singular, the plural hermanos could mean either ‘two brothers’ or ‘a brother and a sister’.)
(3)Brainscape asks you, on a scale of 1-5, “How well did you know this?” which determines how soon that flashcard will be repeated. Cards rated a 1 would repeat often until you report a higher level of confidence, while 5’s are very rarely repeated.
The process continues to repeat one card at-a-time (with AUDIO accompaniment), at gradually increasingly levels of complexity, with previous cards being repeated on an as-needed basis, according to Brainscape’s machine learning algorithm. Interspersed with these sentence-building exercises are simple vocabulary enrichment and verb conjugation-practice flashcards – which also employ a confidence-based repetition technique.
These educational software best practices seem very intuitive and simple, yet they have never before been implemented in a complete curriculum that is sliced & diced in this way. Brainscape Spanish includes over 2,000 “Sentence Builder” flashcards (as illustrated above) as well as over 4,000 cards – most with audio – for key vocabulary words and verb conjugations. It is the first complete Spanish curriculum that promises to teach you the language from the ground-up, using nothing but an iPhone.
Our team has actually written an entire white paper about why Intelligent Cumulative Exposure works so effectively. We feel like this collection of research was sorely needed. After all, the Input Hypothesis, the value of Active Recall, and the importance of Metacognition have been known for decades, but much of the advancements toward applying these principles have confined to laboratories. Brainscape is the first company to make these language learning advancements so absurdly convenient.
Brainscape Spanish is currently a $40 iPhone/iPod Touch app but is available to try free on Brainscape’s website (for a limited time) – where you can also find other flashcard-based courses and even create your own smart flashcard decks. As of this writing, Brainscape has over 150,000 users, and it plans to create a web/mobile learning community that eventually encompasses the world’s entire body of knowledge as well as just languages.