Friday, March 27, 2009

StudyTag Update

We've been working on a new release of the StudyTag engine over the last year, on improved methods to author content, and on better algorithms to support long term retention and recall. So we are working.

A warm welcome to all our visitors who are coming from the recent blog entries about our site. We have lots of plans to continue to improve the content, presentation, and educational philosophy. Yes, it will even look better too! Welcome to StudyTag.


Friday, October 03, 2008

The Simplest Things

Sometimes the simplest things are, in fact, the most profound. And the smallest changes can have the greatest impact. I believe it is possible to dramatically improve our approach to training and education with just a few simple changes. Changes simple enough that teachers can begin applying them the day they learn them.

To understand the solution, we must first recognize the problem.

The problem is that we leak.

That's right, leak. We leak information.

We very rapidly forget new facts to which we are exposed. If you want to revolutionize training and education, you must fully understand this inherent human weakness. We need to be exposed to information again and again, perhaps even hundreds of times, before we can successfully retain and recall it. This is reality folks. Don't ignore it. Deal with it.

So how do we deal with this without genetically altering humans? Here are the simple steps:

1. Clearly identify the facts you want a student to learn.
2. Provide a method to reinforce those facts over time (over multiple sleep cycles).

Folks, that is it. It is so amazingly simple that it boggles the mind. Have you seen how we actually teach and train our students? We do not do these two things well at all!

Clearly Identify the Facts

Most classes do not clearly identify the specific set of facts to learn. Instead, they take the “guess what I think is important” approach. In this approach, a professor or lecturer stands at the front of the room and drones on and on for hours and hours, over days and days. Eventually, a test is presented to the students. The students are not told exactly what is going to be on the test. Instead, the students get to guess what the instructor thinks is important.

If you guessed right, you get an A.

If you guessed wrong, you fail.

In either case, it is highly unlikely that you will remember more than one or two of the facts within thirty days of the exam.

This failure is clearly demonstrated in the game show Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader. We don't remember what we learned in elementary school. Why? Because we leak!

It is really simple folks, if the facts are not systematically reinforced, they are most assuredly forgotten. To fix the problem, clearly identify every fact the student should remember for the long-term. Next, give the students all of these facts in advance. Yes, all of them. If they should know 1000 things give them all 1000. Help them master all 1000. Test them on all 1000.

I know, this is extra work for the educators. They actually need to clearly identify what the students should master. We don't do this today because we think it would take too much time and energy for students to remember all of these facts. The truth is, with the proper reinforcement system in place, it will take less than five minutes a day.

Reinforce the Facts

To retain and successfully recall facts, they need to be reinforced over multiple sleep cycles. Some facts are learned quickly. They may only need to be reinforced a few times. Other facts, for whatever reason, are learned slowly. They may need to be reinforced several hundred times. The problem is, these facts are never the same for two different people. Everyone needs to be reinforcing different facts on entirely different schedules. Admittedly, this is almost impossible to do in a lecture. However, for a computerized tutor, it is remarkably simple.

A computer can be used to build a mind map for each individual student, learning exactly what facts the student knows and doesn't know. The computer can remember every time a student was exposed to a fact, on what date and at what time. The computer can remember each individual student's success in recalling and retaining each and every fact. Finally, the computer can provide a customized reinforcement plan individualized for every single student. As a result, the computer can ensure every single student masters every single fact, and it does this so quickly that to most students, it does not even feel like studying.

This is not a theory folks, it is a fact. For the last two years at StudyTag we have been doing applied research on precisely this method of training. Others have been doing it even longer. It really works. However, don't take our word for it, test it on yourself. Pick something you would like to learn and implement a system of spaced repetition and reinforcement over extended periods of time.

You learn more. Faster. With less effort.

Sometimes the simplest things are, in fact, the most profound. Identify the facts you want your students to learn, all of them, and provide a customized method to reinforce them. You'll be amazed at how smart they become.

Let the knowledge revolution begin.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Training Budgets Waste or Total Waste?

If your business is interested in learning how to truly compete on a global scale, then it probably needs to get dramatically smarter, about getting smarter.

Why is it that whenever an industry has a down-turn the first budget slashed is training? One week management wants everyone to attend all sorts of training seminars and the next week almost ALL of them are canceled. Why?

I have my own theory as to why training budgets are cut in this way. I propose this theory in the manner of a confession. You see, for most of the past 20 years I've been involved in some form of professional training. I have seen first hand what companies intuitively know, which is that a great deal of the money, time, and energy spent in professional training total is a TOTAL WASTE.

There, I said it, I feel better already.

Unfortunately, this also applies to most on-line training courses. The big difference between on-line training and live training in terms of results is simply that you waste less money with on-line training because you spend less for the course. Not a big win.

Here is a simple test to see how effective your training has been.

List, from memory, five facts you learned at your last all-day training course.

Thirty days after you take that on-line computer training lesson, do you remember even two things you learned?

I doubt it.

Research dating back to Ebbinghaus in 1885 shows us why. The reality is, we are great at forgetting. Perhaps it is time we start applying this research? Or, here's an idea, perhaps we can apply some of the additional research done in human cognition and memory that has been performed since 1885. We do have an additional 122 years of research we could be using. Have you ever read any of it? When I look at most professional training it is certainly clear that your trainers haven't!

Remarkably, whether teaching in schools or training in business, for the the most part, we ignore 122 years of research. We use old and wasteful training methods. Hey Detroit! Interested in learning how to slash your training budgets while achieving dramatically better training results? Want to ensure your employees actually gain and retain the skills and knowledge required to compete in the 21st century? Here is a hint.


Please stop doing that, it just makes me sick. In case you didn't notice, most people are bored to death by PowerPoint presentations. Why do you think putting them on the Internet will suddenly make them more interesting?

There is a dramatically better way to provide training and education. Information worth learning should be properly reinforced so that it is retained and recalled long-term. Here is a thought, if you do training right, you should actually remember what you have learned.

Oh, and an additional benefit of doing training right - if you change your tools and approach, most training sessions should not cost more than $10. Think Charles Shaw training: if you are paying more than $10 a bottle of training, you are paying too much. If your vendors are charging you more than that, get new vendors, or demand that they implement a better system, a system based on real data and research in human cognition and memory.

If your business is going to be competitive in the 21st Century you are going to have to have some of the most effective training and education programs on the planet. You can do this. First you have to be willing to admit that what you are currently doing is not good enough. Next, you have to change. The tools are ready. The time is right. The secrets are ready to be revealed.

In my next post, I'll tell you the secrets to dramatically reforming your education and training systems, including exactly what needs to change, how to change it, and where you can begin.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mastery Exams

Many of our new courses have as their last element a Mastery Exam. A Mastery Exam is a test that includes every fact in the course, displayed in the most difficult mode available (typically fill in the blank). I just took the Presidents lesson in this mode, 128 fill in the blank questions! Here were the results.

Percent Correct:93%
Best Time:21:55 new!
No. of Questions:119 of 128

Three typos, and 6 missed answers. Not bad for 128 facts that I haven't been reinforcing lately. I think I'll take it again to observe any increase in speed. My prediction, a dramatic increase in speed closer to my older time, because the neurons have recently been stimulated. Also, a dramatic improvement in quality.... lets see....

Percent Correct:99%
Best Time:15:21 new!
No. of Questions:127 of 128

Indeed! Totally nailed it. One typo (spelled Grover Cleveland incorrectly). So what does this mean? I'd suggest that if you are using StudyTag to prepare yourself for an exam that you take a final review session right before the exam. Stir up those neurons and sail through the test. Let me know how it works out for you.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mastery Test

Mastery Test
In a prior post I mentioned that I took a test on all 128 presidential facts. You may have wondered how you could take that same test. Well, truth be told, previously you had to ask me or you had to build your own. Well, no more. Now at the end of the presidential course you have the option to take a Mastery Exam, the mastery exam includes all 128 presidential facts. You can skip ahead to this exam in the course and try the comprehensive mastery exam at any time!

Have Fun, Can You Beat My Time and Score?
Percent Correct: 100%
Time: 13:51

Milestone 19

Milestone 19
Fully Featured Courses

We have recently released a major new feature in StudyTag, "courses". You can now assign courses to yourself and your students, and authors can now easily build quizzes and test across multiple lessons. Of course, you can still study individual lessons in the way that you always have.

Old way:
1. Assign an individual lesson to yourself, and take that lesson until the trophy is strong.
2. Unassign that lesson, and then assign the next lesson to yourself.

New way:
1. Assign a course to yourself.
2. Follow the daily work the course recommends until the course is complete.
3. The course automatically takes you through each of the lessons in the course, including Introduction, Tutor, and Test Modes.

Why the Change?
We added assigning courses to simplify the assigning process. Assign a course and do not worry about assigning and unassigning individual lessons. Assigning courses is more powerful than assigning lessons, and you only have to do it once.

All of the courses need to be updated to best take advantage of the new feature and we will be updating them over the next few weeks.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Presidents Revisited

The last time I took a test on all 128 presidential facts was September 18, 2006. It took only ten minutes and three seconds. I decided to try again today, I set the presidents test to display all 128 questions, here is how I did:

Gold Trophy - I've Still Got It!
Percent Correct: 98%
Time: 21:50

Wow. It took a long time. I think I spent two minutes or more just trying to remember President Lyndon Johnson's name (36th President Question with Fill in the Blank). I could picture him, remember key events in his administration, but I could not remember his name. I got three questions wrong, all portrait questions (William McKinley, Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes).

Since I last took a long test I've refreshed this knowledge about 34 times for a total of about 84 minutes. Most of my refreshes were taking short tests of 20 questions. I wonder if I would do as well simply using tutor mode and refreshing a minute at a time (saving 50 minutes of refresh time)? Perhaps something we can test in the future with more students, but I suspect it will work.

I think I'll take this test again in a few minutes to see how much faster my time can improve with one review. I am guessing if I take it again I will take at least 25% off of my time. If so, it may be a good indicator that reviewing material right before you take an exam is a good thing.

Gold Trophy
Percent Correct: 100%
Time: 13:51

Amazing! I shaved one second shy of eight minutes off the time to take the test. Simply reviewing all of the questions once reduced the time to take the test by 36%. This is the fastest I have ever done all 128 questions an achieved a score of 100%. This may indicate the value of priming your memory right before a big exam (reviewing a large set of sample questions). It is definately a technique worthy of further study.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Milestone 18 Highlights

StudyTag Milestone 18 had over 46 features and enhancements to the basic environment, 7 of the larger enhancements included:

1. Added a new check box setting to settings page for Premium Account: [x].
Accounts only have the "my students" menu selection if this box is checked.
Student accounts do not have this option.

FAMILY are all of the other students accounts under the same parent.
FRIENDS OF PARENT are people a parent makes thier personal friend.

2. Supported privacy settings "Full profile and trophies only visible to friends".

3. Supported privacy setting "Only Approved Members Visible."

4. Supported parental approved content setting "Only approved content is visible." If selected for a student then it only displays approved lessons and courses in searches for that student. Published lessons and groups created by friends and family are automatically approved (but not STAFF unless they have been added as a friend). Students cannot run unapproved lessons. A parent may selectively unapprove of a lesson that was automatically approved because it was certified.

5. Added course certification for Staff. When a course is certified, all of the lessons in the course are automatically certified. If a course is uncertified all of the lessons in that course are NOT UNCERTIFIED.

6. Supported parent/teacher Assign/Unassign pop-up for students. If a user has students then the "Assign | Unassign" menu selection displays a pop-up window so they can assign and unassign the lesson to their students.

7. Changed the menu item "Groups" to "Courses."

The next milestone will take some time, but it will have a major impact on how courses are created and used. After the next milestone we will be officially launching the site!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Milestone 17 Released

Milestone 17 is officially out the door and on the server. We have also detailed the next two milestones (they are smaller) and should be completed before the end of the year.

More of what was added in Milestone 17:

  1. "My activity report" to the "members" sub-menu to display a summary of the tests taken by the user.

  2. Student accounts for parents and teachers. Currently being tested by staff, this will be available to the public in Milestone 18.

  3. A certified content label (a check mark) and the ability for staff to certify and uncertify lessons.

  4. Staff user status display at the top line of User Profile and User Trophy Room. Status includes: Staff, Active, Frozen.

  5. Global editing capabilities for all published content for Staff users.

  6. Ability to freeze and unfreeze accounts by Staff users.

  7. A display of the outline of the lesson in Introduction Mode. The outline lists readings and questions.

  8. We expanded the BBCODE reference to include (GoogleVideo, YouTube, smily, color, user, today's assignments).

  9. Help, at the top of the page after Settings "Settings | Help | Logout". This link takes the user to the Help page.

  10. Use chat board.

  11. Automated registration email confirmation and reminder notifications for watched forums and assignments.

  12. Ability to display google adwords ads on session start and end pages and on profiles.

  13. Special characters into facts and readings.

  14. Fill in the blank question with a special blank within the question.

  15. A GUI for advanced options for editing a lesson.

  16. Improved Lesson and Facts wizards.

  17. Editor for source documents. These documents are marked up to include facts and readings but keeps the original source material in tact. Bascially a fast way to create a lesson from existing source materials.

  18. Content manager for display documents (About, License, ..., Terms of Use)
Our internal list contained 49 line items. We continue to improve StudyTag for you. Look forward to great new content and features in the near future!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Milestone 17: Tips and Help

I've been off attending teacher conventions this past month working as a sales agent for a publishing house - one we plan on partnering with for our Homeschool site. It is very interesting going out and meeting teachers, seeing the lecture topics, and visiting the other vendors. During this time we have also been busy with development. There are over 47 specific improvements and enhancements going into StudyTag Milestone 17, some very noticeable ones include:
  • Tips and Help
  • Personal Activity Reports
  • Staff User Status
  • Introduction Mode Displays Content
  • Improved Lesson Wizard
Milestone 17 is not fully complete, but over 38 changes have already been posted to the site so you can enjoy them as we create them. Let us know what you think!

Monday, September 18, 2006


A major enhancement we are currently working on will provide parent/teacher accounts and new activity reports on students - along with a highly advanced security model. I think everyone will really like the results.

Of course, along the way we continue to make enhancement to user experience. We just changed the way fill in the blank questions are displayed because we detected confusion between fill in the blank and multiple choice questions. Also, we are adding an outline to Introduction mode to give the user a context for where they are in the lesson. Although these are minor enhancements we already recognized they make a big difference to the users. By eliminating confusion around fill in the blank questions I think we have made it easier to take a test quickly. I just received my best score by far on the American presidents at 98% in 10 minutes and 3 seconds. The little things are important, and it is our desire to make sure the little things work for you!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another 60 Seconds Shaved

I shaved another 60 seconds off of my all presidents time for all 128 questions without loosing any accuracy.

Score: 98%
Questions: 126 of 128
Time: 11:30

I knew all of the questions, but still missed two by misreading the text, in one case I read thirty-first as twenty-first and in the second case read 89 as 98. I suspect a risk of going faster will continue to be misreading the questions. As I take the test I tell when I have really memorized a fact and when I still have to figure it out (for example who is the 28th president I still have to figure out in my head so it slows me down in answering the question).

Still, being able to answer correctly 126 questions in 11 minutes and 30 seconds is a significant improvement in time over just a few tests ago. I am amazed at how quickly our memory can improve if we simply give it a little exercise. Will I shave off another minute if I take the test again in the next few days? I'll try it and let you know.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

All Presidents Progress Report

I find myself interested in the relationship of speed and accuracy. How fast can I answer all of the 128 presidents questions and still retain a great score? Is it beneficial to learn to do the presidents faster and faster? How does it affect long term memory when I learn to answer the questions fast?

On of my goals for StudyTag is to provide authors with real facts and data on how people actually learn. By reviewing StudyTag data over time we hope to continually improve how StudyTag operates and the learning experience. I suspect we will discover many different learning styles and StudyTag will ultimately change how it presents information to each member based on a style that works best for that member - talk about custom education!

For a simple experiment I took the All Presidents Final again today (128 questions), trying to beat my previous best time for 128 questions. My results:

Test Score
Percent Correct: 98%
Time: 12:33
No. of Questions: 126 of 128
Points Just Earned: 6,659
Points This Lesson: 80,612

I shaved another two minutes off of my time (improving my speed a little over 13% again) and was able to keep my accuracy score at 98%. Interestingly enough I got two different questions wrong from yesterday, both of which I'm sure I would have answered correctly if I was going slower! Clearly going faster pushes the brain in different ways. I wonder how many more minutes I can shave off my time while still keeping a solid score. Eventually I should be limited by how fast I can type.

I believe one common mistake students make in studying for tests is they stop studying after they can get the correct answers once. I suspect my data will show that they will greatly benefit by continuing to practice until they can get the correct answers fast.

Friday, August 18, 2006

All Presidents Final Revisited

Took the All Presidents Final Today

All 128 Questions
Percent Correct: 98%
Time: 14:34

I've shaved 2 minutes off my time in June, but have been confusing the portraits of Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison (they are both standing with a hand on a table which must be what my memory is triggering on).

Currently the Final Exam is not set to display all 128 questions at a time, only 20 questions. I figure nobody other than me really wants all 128 questions. In the future we will have a way to configure a test on the fly so you can display more questions if you want or even only fill in the blank questions - wouldn't that be fun!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Milestone 16

I haven't been posting the milestones to the blog but this one was so cool I had to feature it here.

Over sixty-five improvements were made to StudyTag during this milestone including providing significantly enhanced navigation and sorting and searching for lessons and groups. Browse lessons and groups pages were added as the default landing pages and many additional features were implemented based upon requests from our members including paste all, remove all, identifying visually linked content, control of the test modes, expanded BBcode, staff favorites, popular lessons, two letter tags, expanded tag cloud, options for suppressing multiple choice questions, options for suppressing randomizing foil order, hot keys to start lessons, smiley faces, enabled number pads, and perhaps most importantly of all an ability to “watch this forum,” so authors are notified when students are posting to their forums.

Check out StudyTag on your summer vacation at!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Vincent Van Gogh

I took a lesson on Vincent Van Gogh today, where I currently have a silver trophy (I think I'll go back and make it gold).

The reading on Van Gogh says "He produced all of his work—some 900 paintings and 1100 drawings—during the ten year period before he committed suicide. Most of his best-known work was produced in the final two years of his life. In the two months before his death he painted 90 pictures." He lived only 37 years. I say only because I've lived a bit longer.

Hmm. What have I accomplished lately? Well, I did take that lesson on Van Gogh. What have you accomplished lately?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

StudyTag Grammar

The StudyTag system can be used to creat question sets for a variety of differing topics, including grammar. We anticipate StudyTag being exceptional at teaching parts of speech, sentence structure, and syntax.

I already anticipate that after the first few initial question sets are authored we may be requested to create secialized question editors to facilitate the authoring of examples for students. We look forward to receiving those suggestions and requests from some of our early pilot authors, parents, students, and teachers.

So, what do you think some grammar units might look like?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Classic T.V. Lines

A fun new lesson on classic T.V. lines was added to the Just for Fun group. Check it out.

For those of you authoring lessons it also is an example of the following control characters in the "more options" section of the lesson editor:

[NoneOfTheAbove=off] <-- Don't display "None of the Above" questions.
[Introduction=off] <-- Don't display the "Introduction" mode button.
[Tutor=off] <-- Don't display the "Tutor" mode button.

Also it uses the 'autoplay' option for audio when added to a fact:

[audio=784 autoplay] <-- Play the audio automatically when a fact or question is displayed.

Currently we use control codes to set these advanced features. Eventually, we will get around to putting it all in a GUI. In the meantime, say hello to Marsha, Arnold and the Skipper for me in the classic T.V. lines quiz! How well do you know your TV?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

All Presidents Final Exam

I finally scored 100% on the all US Presidents Final Exam. Currently the exam is set to display all 128 questions and it took me 16 minutes and 51 seconds to complete. It has been a great deal of fun using StudyTag to slowly slog my way through all this memory work. I was finally motivated to learn my weaker presidents (17-31) by the cool new trophies that display in the trophy room. I even have an Ultimate Carlos trophy in Presidents 9 to 12. I expect that as I learn the Presidents ever better I could shave a few minutes off the time to do all 128 questions. Perhaps I try again in a month or two and report the results.

I have noticed that my knowledge of the Presidents and their terms in office is having a positive benefit on helping me remember other facts about US history. I'll talk about that more in the future including providing specific examples. Of course if you know Lincoln started in 1861 and Johnson in 1865, and you know the Civil War lasted Lincoln's presidency ,then you know the bounding years of the war!

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Do you know how to translate MCMXCIX to a decimal number. Visit the StudyTag group Roman Numerals and you will find three lessons that will give you the skills to translate this yourself. Learn how to read the copyright on movies. Think of how valuable the skill will be in your next job!

O.K., perhaps there isn't a good reason to learn Roman Numerals except for fun. Can you get an "Ultimate Carlos" in Introduction to Roman Numerals. Make sure you take the Introduction Mode because the readings in this lesson are really valuable.

June 25, MMVI