MIT makes apps that teaches language for just a few seconds

JC Torres - Apr 21, 2017
MIT makes apps that teaches language for just a few seconds

We have become an “instant” culture, that is, a culture of instant gratification. We expect what we want, from an Internet connection to a reply to a message to that viral cat video, to be there at a push of a button. And it bugs us to no end when they don’t. But instead of losing our cool, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory or CSAIL suggest a better use of those precious moments. Meet WaitSuite, a group of micro-learning apps that can teach you language, math, or even medicine while waiting for an elevator or waiting for your device to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot.

While people will complain that they don’t have enough free time in a day to learn something new, the truth is we have pockets of time every day that we aren’t aware about. Many of those windows of opportunity are tiny, lasting only a few seconds at most. MIT researchers believe, however, that those few seconds are more than enough.

They call it “micro-moments” and the process is “micro-learning”. Much like how some use flash cards to learn or memorize new things, these few seconds can also be used to learn a new word in a foreign language, a new medical or legal jargon, or even a new mathematical formula. The difference with flashcards is that these micro-learning apps don’t have to be manually launched. They know when you’re waiting for something to finish.

“WaitSuite” isn’t a single app but a collection of independent programs that have one thing in common. They can detect when there’s an appropriate lull in activity so that they can show you a flash card. WaitChatter, for example, is a messaging app that knows if you’re waiting for a reply. WiFiLearner, on the other hand, sits on your computer and notices if you’re waiting for a connection to be made. ElevatorLearner uses Bluetooth iBeacons to sense if you’re waiting for an elevator. In all those cases, the apps give you an info card to digest while you wait.

In some cases, like waiting for an elevator, a user sometimes has as much as a minute of free time. In others, like connecting to Wi-Fi, it might be shorter than 10 seconds. Some situations might be more conducive to learning than others. The research doesn’t seem to address whether it’s actually an effective way to learn and remember, which psychologists and educators might contest. Either way, WaitSuite just shows that we do have a few seconds of time each day to take advantage of and not much of an excuse not to do something worthwhile with those.


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