When Professor Joern Hoppman of the University of Oldenburg, Germany, first learned about Cerego, it was from a colleague. Like many in his position, Hoppmann was initially skeptical about online learning platforms as a necessary adjunct to in-person lectures. But that skepticism didn’t last long, as the feedback from students using Cerego was overwhelmingly positive—and now, in a remote learning environment, it offers a continuity of approach as well as personalized learning experience otherwise impossible to achieve.
The problem: Making large lectures more interactive and engaging for students, and addressing poor study habits perpetuated by an exam-focused approach
“I heard about Cerego from a didactic expert at ETH Zurich, where I worked and taught until 2017,” Hoppmann says. “We talked about ways to make large lectures more interactive and he recommended Cerego to me.”
The idea of helping students develop better study habits was of keen interest to Hoppmann. Too many apply the ‘cramming’ approach, loading up on information immediately before a test, only to (almost) immediately forget it.
“A problem of many exam-based courses is that students postpone their learning until right before the exam,” outlines Hoppmann, “which leads to cognitive overload and them forgetting the content again directly after the exam is done. Moreover, especially in large lectures, students' prior knowledge differs greatly, making it difficult for teachers to cater to students‘ individual learning needs.”
The solution: Scaling adaptive, personalized learning
“At first, I was rather skeptical whether students really needed ‘another app,’” explains Hoppmann. “However, when starting to look into the product, I noticed that it might solve a number of problems frequently observed with large courses, as it allowed to individualize students' learning experience (which is important since, in large courses, students typically differ strongly with regard to their backgrounds and knowledge).
“I therefore gave Cerego a go and students really liked it, as also indicated by the many positive comments I received in the course evaluations,” Hoppmann says. “Some of my students even described it as the ‘highlight’ of their experience in the course.’ One student said: ‘Cerego, the app, was my favorite part of the module. It built nicely on the lectures, you could practice the content, and it offered a good overview of the lecture content.’”
"From my perspective, Cerego is uniquely valuable because it enables students to expand their knowledge in a playful way, strengthens their interest in the subjects covered in class, and provides an incentive for students to deal with the content of the course at an early stage so that technical terms and factual knowledge are better retained."
- Professor Joern Hoppmann, University of Oldenburg
In other words, Cerego meets the students where they are in terms of their knowledge about a given topic, and then automatically builds a personalized approach to knowledge development. Whether in-person lectures play a role or not, Cerego offers a solution that scales personalized learning—and makes it accessible anywhere.
“From my perspective, Cerego is uniquely valuable because it enables students to expand their knowledge in a playful way, strengthens their interest in the subjects covered in class, and provides an incentive for students to deal with the content of the course at an early stage so that technical terms and factual knowledge are better retained,” says Hoppmann. “The use of Cerego makes it possible to train technical terms and knowledge in an individualized way, as the learning intervals [between study sessions] are adapted to the students‘ knowledge level. Also, the availability of Cerego as a smartphone app allows students to practice the content wherever they are—e.g., on the bus or during breaks between courses.”
That also extends beyond simple ‘memorization,’ as developing strong memories is the key to building foundational knowledge—without which, more complex concepts cannot be properly examined or understood, and creativity is impossible.
“In smaller courses, where students write theses as the main form of examination, using Cerego in parallel helps broaden students' knowledge base, since theses are usually designed to deal with topics in depth but without being able to cover all the topics covered in class,” he says. “By providing a user-friendly and individualized learning experience that is based on frequent repetition and learning psychology, Cerego helps solve these problems.”
Adapting quickly and effectively to a remote-first learning environment
“My experience is that Cerego is a useful tool that can supplement other ways of remote teaching, such as video conferences,” suggests Hoppmann. “Its main advantage during the pandemic, from my perspective, is that it offers a smart alternative to written exams and tests, which often cannot take place during the pandemic. For that reason, I use Cerego in addition to videos and group work to ensure that students learn and remember key concepts and frameworks covered in class.”
Having used Cerego well before COVID-19 ushered in a new era of remote-first learning, Hoppmann understands that e-learning solutions can—and should—play a role in driving learning outcomes, whether in a traditional classroom setting or not.
“I have used Cerego before the pandemic and plan to continue using it afterwards. I believe that COVID will certainly lead to an increase of remote learning technologies as students and teachers get used to working with them. I do not think, however, that remote learning technologies will completely replace in-person learning. I rather see the two types of learning as complementary, since both have their unique strengths and weaknesses. While remote learning allows instructors to individualize learning processes even for large groups and provides temporal and geographic flexibility, personal interaction is important, since it allows students to ask questions and develop skills on dimensions that are difficult to teach remotely (e.g. presenting or critical discussions).”
Thanks very much to Professor Joern Hoppmann for the interview! You can learn more about the University of Oldenburg via their official website. Photos courtesy of the University of Oldenburg.