Behavioral Approaches to Education

Education is transformative – it elevates our understanding of the world, allowing us to interact with it on a higher plane. It is also practically useful in creating opportunities for a better life.

In the past few decades, we’ve seen an explosion in the nature of knowledge – it is abundant and newly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A child in Africa can stream quality lessons on almost any subject from respected institutions like MIT and Stanford. However, an incredibly small percentage of the population accesses these resources, and an incredibly small percentage of those people stay with those courses through the end.

When educational resources are abundant, why are so few people taking advantage of them?

The answer is simple: because we are humans. Our motivation, time and willpower are finite. As the Germans say, our inner “Schweinhund” prevents us from making useful investments in our education which can have a potentially large payoff over time.

In many respects, the contemporary challenge in education is entirely different from that of previous generations. It is no longer a question of scarcity, but of taking advantage of abundance through delivery and interaction. How do we defeat the Schweinhund?

Ideally, we’d be able to plug into a machine and download skills or knowledge. But until then, there has to be a better way.

At UnlockYourBrain, we believe in designing and delivering education for people with their humanity in mind. Rather than disrupt their daily routines and force them to tax their limited willpower in order to learn, UnlockYourBrain integrates learning into everyday life. We’ve found that micro-learning – learning in small chunks over a period of time – can actually be superior to traditional forms of learning. Over time, we hope to integrate learning into life so seamlessly that it becomes imperceptible and effortless – defeating the inner Schweinhund.

Our current product is an app that puts a two-second question on the lock screen of your smartphone. Every time you access your phone, you answer a math problem or vocabulary question in order to learn another language. You can skip if you’re in a hurry, but we found that most people don’t. In a couple weeks time, we will launch a marketplace with content from many subject areas, as well as a tool with which users can create their own custom content.

This is only the first attempt at delivering education that is behaviorally in-sync with our quirks and limitations as a species. It isn’t perfect. But it is a major step. Moving forward, we’d like to extend UnlockYourBrain to multiple platforms across mobile and web, as well as implement new pedagogical methods to teach as well as train. It won’t be easy, but we are convinced this is a fundamental challenge in education and we are determined to surmount it.

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