Zopim Chat

Rodney Brim Report

The Rodney Brim Blog

One Mobile App that Improves Learning Results by More than 30%

December 15, 2017

It’s been over a year since I posted a blog comment.  In addition to hoping your past year has gone well and wishing you a Merry Christmas, I wanted to share what I’ve been up to. 

The focus of much of my work for the past 18 months has been on reinventing how to harness the learning process, so that we could help people learn faster and easier.  The intent was to help refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan living in Germany improve the speed at which they learn the German language… and culture.  Helping refugees was not only something that was motivating given the human impact and size of the problem (there are over 22 million refugees worldwide currently, with no end in sight), but working with a distressed and displaced population presented a very challenging learning environment, given all the cognitive loading that occurs when people are exposed to repeated negatively charged experiences.  E.g. if we could help this population, it could work for anyone.

Given that a majority of the migrants in Germany have mobile phones, we choose the mobile platform as our working environment, and working with Dr. Julie Sykes and the University of Oregon’s CASLS department, we set out with the support of Deutsche Telekom and a small team of experts (including the team at PixelFire) to create a learning environment that was brain friendly and incorporated safe highly stimulating practice environments using virtual reality.

In a nutshell, we created a language and culture learning mobile app that targeted different parts of the brain, such that we could leverage visual, auditory, sequential and sensory-motor learning styles (and brain function) while focused on learning a second language… all in one app.  Think of it as harnessing different parts of the brain’s learning capacity in an additive way to enrich and speed up the brain’s ability to learn and retain.  And we built the app to support participants who’s native language was either Farsi, Arabic or Pashto.

But we didn’t stop there, we built a virtual reality environment where the participant, with or without a headset, could interact with native language speaking individuals in pursuit of completing a task – practical and functional language use.  And in the virtual reality environment we built in feedback on pronunciation and culturally “correct” approaches to use in communicating with the native population (something that can be more challenging than learning the actual words to use).

Here’s a deceptively simple looking screenshot given the power of what was “under the hood.”

We set out to not only build an app that was targeted on the language learning needs for migrants, but also could be verified as improving on the learning results as compared with the best that classroom instruction could provide.

We used a specially designed 19 question test, and both pre-tested and post-tested participants who were split into two groups.  One group following administration of the 19 question test attended a small classroom setting (and then were re-tested once the class had concluded).  The second group were tested in the same manner, but instead of attending a classroom, they were given our Digital Learning app.  The same content focusing on how to make requests for needed items was presented in both the classroom and in the mobile app.

The Results:

Classroom participants improved selecting the correct answers by an average score of 4 over their pretest (pre-classroom) scores.  Participants who viewed the mobile app (and didn’t attend the classroom) improved their scores by an average of 5. 5 – an improvement of 38%. 


Perhaps more revealing were the modal average (most common response) scores. The most common gain for classroom participants was an improvement over their pre-classroom  scores with an average gain of 3 additional correct responses, while mobile app users achieved an average gain of 5 – a 2/3rds improvement in learning over the classroom experience. 

The app presents a significant breakthrough in harnessing the brain’s power to learn, and is available as a platform for any content, not just language acquisition… but what a powerful tool for learning how to communicate and navigate in an unfamiliar cultural and language environment!



No comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *