Beyond the Numbers:

Cerego, the Apple Watch, and the Platonic Ideal of Personalized Learning


Today, we’re excited to release the Cerego experience for the Apple Watch. When I told people that Cerego was building an application for the Watch, I encountered a fair amount of skepticism. Even in Silicon Valley, the merits of the Watch are debated. Some question the value of building on the new platform, and based purely on the numbers, I wouldn’t blame them.

With that said, I’m a big believer in starting with why.

I’d like to unpack the rationale behind Cerego’s first wearable endeavor rather than simply describing why we think it’s so useful.

So, why did we do it?

First, it’s important to call out that our decision to develop this app is in no way tied to numbers. We don’t expect there will be a huge intersection between existing Cerego users and Apple Watch owners at the start, nor do we think of this as a long-term user acquisition channel. Though I certainly wouldn’t bet against Apple and am personally very bullish on the Watch, it is very early days for wearables.

Instead, we designed a Cerego experience for the Apple Watch because the Watch represents the “Platonic ideal” of the Cerego experience.

Note: this is the first time since college that I’ve had a chance to reference something I learned in Philosophy101 — there’s no way I was going to pass up that opportunity.

According to Plato, there is a world of perfections where everything has an ideal form. When I first saw the Apple Watch, I was struck by the realization that this device represents the ideal form of what Cerego is striving to do: personalize learning and move toward a true “quantified learning” experience.

Learning is a constant state of the human condition. In every waking moment we are learning, some things more relevant or applicable than others, but continually taking in information and holding onto a very, very small subset of millions of stimuli that bombard us. Cerego’s mission is to help users capture and maintain those stimuli that they deem relevant and interesting. With Cerego, users learn faster, remember longer, and quantify what they know in short bursts.

More than anything else, the Apple Watch is designed to support brief, purposeful interactions versus complex, drawn-out experiences. For us, the Watch delivers an amazingly simple and elegant way to optimize a very important component of what it means to learn more effectively.

How does it work?

As a constant companion, the Apple Watch is capable of providing you with up-to-date information about your world. In the case of Cerego, we can tell you exactly (down to the minute) where you are in the process of learning and forgetting.

Part of using Cerego is learning and reviewing content, but just as important is the ability to map your memories on a knowledge graph that we call the “Memory Bank”. Every time you interact with your personal Memory Bank, you gain insight into what you really know and how long you can expect to remember it.

That’s our vision of “quantified knowledge”.

Up until now, you had to check back with Cerego to see your progress and to attend to fading memories. Sure, emails and push notifications can alert users to return to Cerego on computers or mobile devices, but the power of tracking learning is lost by the lack of a constant connection with you — the person.

That’s where Cerego’s Apple Watch app comes in. The beauty is that we allow for “persistent notification” in a way that’s completely unobtrusive to the user. We keep you in tune with your evolving memory by dropping you into a mini view of your Memory Bank, and direct you to the content you need to review seamlessly through the magic of Apple’s handoff to the iPhone.

Now, let’s take a look at the core functionality of the app.

With the release of watchOS 2, Apple has extended developer access to the custom watch faces through “complications”. For those of you who never had an analog watch, a complication is any function that exists outside of telling time — in our case, the number of fading memories that you have across everything you’re learning with Cerego.

Every time you check your watch, you can see how many items need your attention, synchronized to the minute, without being interrupted by some form of push notification or message.

You can even use Apple’s “time travel” to see how your memories will fade over time — super cool for planning ahead.

There’s also a “glance mode” if you don’t use our complication on your custom watchface to let you quickly check your learning status.

And if you’re all caught up, the app will let you know the optimal time for your next review.

Tapping into fading memories reveals your full Memory Bank. Here, you see the various sets you are learning — in my case, those sets range from Astronomy at ASU’s GFA program to my “Silicon Valley Who’s Who” set. The visualization shows me that most of my sets are in good shape, and diving into the orbs will give me another layer of insight. My “Who’s Who” is good for another 11 days, while Astronomy needs review ASAP.

Here’s where Apple’s Handoff kicks in, which is represented by the Cerego logo in the corner of my iPhone. The app queues up Cerego on my iPhone and drops me directly into the learning experience without having to launch the app or prowl around for the right content to study. This is targeted, simple, and doesn’t carry a metacognitive burden.

What’s next?

Even though it’s still early days, I have high hopes for the Apple Watch. The watchOS 2 release created the opportunity we were seeking to extend our vision for personalized learning and quantified knowledge, now available on your wrist.

If you have feedback on how we can improve the experience or thoughts on the direction that mobile personalized learning is headed, send me a note at asl@cerego.com — I’d love to hear from you!