As it turns out, knowing what you know (or 'metacognition') actually explains a lot about how well you learn. The more conscious you are of your knowledge and thought processes, the more you can focus your energy on shoring up knowledge where it's most needed. However, obvious though that may seem, it's not so easy in practice — in general, people are pretty bad at it.

But that's not the kind of indictment it might sound like at first — when you think about it, judging your own knowledge is very challenging.

Overcoming internal biases to identify areas and strategies for improvement

First, there are common misconceptions about how to study and review course materials in order to better remember them. Often, these take the form of study techniques that work in the short term (but not over the longer-term), like cramming, or using mnemonic devices. In contrast, practices like distributed learning (or spaced repetition) and retrieval practice (quizzing yourself) are more effective for developing long-term retention.

Second, there is a natural bias to want to review information that you already know well — it feels good to ace a quiz, after all. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that people mistake that positive feedback as evidence for the effectiveness of their learning strategies [e.g. Zechmeister & Shaughnessy, 1980; Karpicke & Roediger, 2008]. Instead, they end up focusing more on the areas that are less in need of attention, rather than doing the more difficult (but ultimately more important) work of reviewing information they're struggling to remember. This tension, whereby tasks that seem difficult now may in fact result in the most significant improvements in long-term learning, has been termed the “Desirable Difficulty” effect [Bjork, 1994].

Both of these challenges can be overcome within a controlled learning environment, by tracking memory strengths for different material, and by providing learners with appropriate strategies for their chosen learning goal. (Are you trying to remember this forever? Or just until your exam next week?)

Even more valuably, an ideal learning platform should surface this strategy to learners, prompt them to assess their own memories, and give accurate feedback on how well material has been learned. By doing so, the platform can better support the development of strong metacognitive skills: Helping people learn how to learn more effectively.

That's why we're building Cerego

Ultimately, that is the goal of Cerego — empowering people to gain insights into what they know, and track that knowledge over time. Not only does this make for effective online learning, but also it acts as proof of their knowledge and memory in a far more meaningful way. Instead of test results from a one-time exam, Cerego learners know the strength of their memories across every item they have studied within the platform, how long it has taken them to acquire that knowledge, and how far into the future they are likely to remember it.

Better yet, Cerego automatically builds and schedules reviews based on how well, and how long you want to remember each learning item. And that makes for impactful, adaptive learning that can be directly applied to the real world, whether inside the classroom, in the workplace, or in the field.

For more on how Cerego works, check out our Resources.

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