GUEST POST: An Interview with a physician who created an app that employs evidence-based learning principles

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GUEST POST: An Interview with a physician who created an app that employs evidence-based learning principles

David Handel, MD, Co-founder iDoRecall.com, a web application that helps students achieve academic success by leveraging evidence-based learning science strategies. David is a retired MD who was a mediocre K-12 student but graduated #1 in his college and medical school classes by using cognitive psychology learning techniques to completely redesign his approach to learning.

David is currently looking to partner with a select group of educators who are interested in free access to iDoRecall so that they can bring evidence-based learning techniques into the classroom and help their students use the tools that underlie iDoRecall to accelerate their academic success. Write david@iDoRecall.com for details.

How did you get started with using learning science techniques in your own academic life?

I spent my K-12 years as a fairly mediocre student. I graduated at around the 50th percentile in my high school class. After my freshman year of college, I discovered the power of retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and metacognition. I used flashcards extensively for retrieval practice and made the spacing of my retrieval practices a habit. It was all quite by accident as I wasn’t familiar at the time with the research that backed up these strategies. But personally, I knew that I was onto something. After I made the switch, I got straight A’s the remainder of college and then attended medical school where I graduated #1 in my class. I fully describe what I did and how I did it in this article in Better Humans.

I understand that you are a serial entrepreneur. How does that play into the story of iDoRecall?

While doing my residency in Radiology at Duke University in the 1980s, I started a software company that quickly grew to 30 employees. Years later, I yearned to get back into the startup world, and in particular software and technology because I find that entrepreneurship is an exhilarating experience. Creating and building new things is one of the great joys in my life. In 2009, while still practicing radiology, I co-founded AYTM, a market research technology company. AYTM has been very successful and even today, with over 60 employees, I serve as its Chief Operating Officer. But I have a particular passion for learning and more particularly for learning how to learn. I find it exasperating that little to no attention is given to teaching kids how to learn and too much energy is focused to teaching them what to learn. Realizing that there was an opportunity to use technology to support learning while using science-backed best practices, I set out in 2012 to build what has become iDoRecall (or, iDR for short). In the beginning, I was coding the app myself. But, because of the lack of having enough time and my inability to focus all of my energy on the engineering of the app, I decided to hire a team of software developers in 2017 and accelerate bringing iDR to life. My mission with iDR is to help as many students achieve their academic potential as I possibly can. But each individual success story is a huge personal win for me.

How does iDoRecall enable students to go about learning using techniques that are backed by science?

iDR is a knowledge maintenance system in a world where we’ve been increasingly outsourcing our mental skills to a burgeoning array of neuroprostheses. Our abilities to perform math, spelling, exercise proper grammar, navigate the world, find and remember information have been diminished over recent decades because of our dependence on technology and the outsourcing of our capabilities. iDR opposes this trend and helps students build the skills to remember what they learn.

With iDR, you add your learning materials to your personal library in the app. You can add your class notes, handouts, professor’s PowerPoints, screen grabs, images and lecture videos. Then you consume and study this content in the app. As you read, watch and listen, if you come upon a concept (that you grasp) or a fact that you want to remember, pause to create a spaced-repetition flashcard that will be linked to that nugget of knowledge. The iDR spaced-repetition algorithm will schedule which of your flashcards should be practiced each day. During retrieval practice, if you struggle with an answer, you can click a link to open the original source learning material at the exact place where you learned it. Quickly refresh your memory and then get back to your retrieval practice session.

Besides retrieval practice (the testing effect) and spacing, what other learning best practices does iDR leverage?

iDR encourages elaboration and we promote the idea that students should create flashcards in their own words that express their understanding. iDR uses interleaving because, during retrieval practice sessions, there is a randomized presentation of flashcards from a student’s various subjects. There is also the opportunity for dual coding with the ability to include images in the questions and answers along with text.

One of the features that I’m most excited about that we’re currently working on will prompt learners to exercise metacognition and reflection as they study and create flashcards. These prompts will encourage the student to dig deeper and reflect on how, why and where new ideas fit within their existing knowledge (infusing even more elaboration, too).

iDR also has some practical tools to assist students with time management and the never-ending battle with procrastination. Examples include a built-in Pomodoro timer for enabling focused periods of uninterrupted study and providing optional daily reminder emails.

How does iDoRecall fit in the classroom?

iDR is a few weeks away from a major release that will enable educators to create classes within the app and invite their students into these classes. Within a class, a teacher can upload learning materials into the class’s library such as Word, PowerPoint, PDF and image files. The teacher can add videos that are hosted on services such as YouTube and Vimeo. Additionally, the teacher can create for their class a set of spaced-repetition flashcards linked to the concepts and facts that they want their students to remember in the uploaded files and videos. When the students perform retrieval practice with the flashcards, if they struggle with an answer, they are just one click away from viewing the exact source location in the linked learning content. Teachers can control whether students are permitted to contribute to the class’s library and flashcards. Teachers can curate contributed content if they allow collaboration and can see metrics of each student’s activity in the class.

Alternatively, students will also be able to create their own study groups, invite fellow students to these groups and collaborate by sharing learning materials and flashcards.

iDR will continue to evolve and deliver tools that enable students to use the best learning practices proven by research. It has always been a challenge to deliver the best practices in learning from the laboratory to the classroom and into students’ daily lives. iDoRecall is on a mission to make that happen.

David is currently looking to partner with a select group of educators who are interested in free access to iDoRecall and want to use proven learning science principles to help their students accelerate their academic success. Write david@iDoRecall.com for details.