“Flashcard” is often a dirty word in today’s educational circles. When many teachers hear about Brainscape’s web/mobile flashcards platform for the first time, they often wonder whether our technology simply perpetuates the ‘drill & practice’ model that we’re trying to move away from. After all, shouldn’t we be focusing class-time on more ‘project-based learning’, where students can develop valuable skills rather than just memorizing facts?
My answer, of course, is that this project-based learning model is precisely what Brainscape does help facilitate.
The popular “Flipped Classroom” framework states that students should collaboratively seek their own knowledge rather than simply have it spoon-fed to them by boring textbooks or lectures. Instead of just hearing a lecture about Photosynthesis, for example, the concept might be introduced by first asking students “How do plants convert light into food?” and then allowing them to (1) perform internet research, (2) design lab experiments, (3) and set up a class wiki where they collaboratively write their own explanation of how Photosynthesis works. Constructivist research correctly tells us that such knowledge-seeking activities will build stronger real-world skills, while helping students remember the learning objective (e.g. the steps of Photosynthesis) better than they would have remembered it by passively reading or hearing the explanation.
The problem with this dogma is that modern educators are tempted to over-rely on the likelihood of project-based learning to permanently make knowledge “stick.” Unfortunately, no matter how well-designed a collaborative project may be, there is no guarantee that its learning objectives will be remembered forever (or even for a few weeks). “Drill & practice” (aka “study”) is still necessary to cement that knowledge that was first acquired in the constructivist environment. That’s where Brainscape comes in.
By providing a platform for students to collaboratively create study materials that can be later studied outside the classroom, Brainscape bridges this gap between constructivism and behaviorism. The steps are as follows:
- Students acquire the initial knowledge through project-based learning in class.
- The teacher sets up an environment for students to collaboratively generate flashcard-based study materials for the given topic
- Students study these flashcards on their own time, and on their own device (using an efficient, adaptive learning algorithm rooted in cognitive science)
- The teacher monitors students’ study habits and learning progress, while identifying students’ overall weaknesses that need to be reviewed in class
With this careful mix of best practices, Brainscape helps teachers and students optimize their valuable us of class time.