MIT Is Leveraging Micro-Learning To Make People Smarter

MIT Is Leveraging Micro-Learning To Make People Smarter
Design

WaitSuite is a collection of apps that integrate ‘micro-learning moments’ into interfaces that you’re already using

Ido Lechner, Home Editor
  • 2 may 2017

With so many responsibilities creeping into our daily lives, checking off ‘learn to code’ from our to-do lists seems a far-fetched notion. Since many of us barely have time to fulfill our main priorities, we can never actually get around to reading that book or taking that e-course. Or so we think.

As it turns out, a decent chunk of our time in the digital world is spent waiting: waiting for browsers to load, waiting to get out of the elevator so you can answer that email and wait for your coworkers to send you that file over slack. And while each instance of delay is brief, collectively they amount to enough time to finally picking up French or learn what SEO is and how it works. Enter WaitSuite, a micro-learning platform designed by MIT PhD student Carrie Cai in an effort to make life-long learning a more relevant part of living as an adult.

As the name implies, WaitSuite is a collection of five apps that try to fill the mere second’s gap between the different interfaces you engage with throughout the day. If your Wi-Fi is loading, your browser will quiz you with on-the-fly translations; if you’re pulling to refresh a social media feed, a flash card pops up. One app in the suite, a free extension to Gchat named WaitChatter, highlights words used throughout your conversation and asks you to translate – a ‘micro pop quiz’ predicated on the context of your dialogue.

Cai describes her platform as a ‘wait-learning’ engine, which encourages the sort of steady and repetitive learning that’s crucial in language acquisition or memorization tasks. In one study she conducted, participants using WaitChatter learned four new words a day simply by communicating with their peers.

The notion of transforming empty moments in our lives – so short that they otherwise go unnoticed – into a quick few seconds of learning has the potential to catalyze new behaviors and form better habits without feeling like you’ve put much effort in at all. But, in order to do so effectively, the key to WaitSuite’s efficacy is subtlety and non-invasiveness.

Each of the platforms’ pop-ups is what we call ‘soft notifications,’ meaning they don’t disrupt whatever you’re doing. Instead of locking other interactions to deal with them, or appearing abruptly without notice, WaitSuite apps fade away if they haven’t been engaged with after 15 seconds of their gentle appearance. On an experiential level, this helps the brain weave a seemingly unrelated micro-task into the larger picture of whatever they’re doing, be it chatting with friends or rebooting their wi-fi.

Moreover, in an increasingly digital world filled with never-ending voids of distraction and procrastination, keeping these moments subtle means WaitSuite isn’t contributing to the problem. In fact, the idea is quite fascinating: WaitSuite proposes that a sophisticated interaction design can ease the learning plateau that comes with our multitasked lives.

WaitSuite

With so many responsibilities creeping into our daily lives, checking off ‘learn to code’ from our to-do lists seems a far-fetched notion. Since many of us barely have time to fulfill our main priorities, we can never actually get around to reading that book or taking that e-course. Or so we think.

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+Education
+Education
+Learning
+MIT
+technology

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