Keys-by-TEARN mobile platform
Diary of a passionate, tech Dad
from TEARN i.e. teach to learn

Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts

Feb 23, 2011

Op-ed: Evergreen Publishing

Has coffee-table apps become a unique form of evergreen publishing?

TEARN media has been experimenting with various themes for mobile publishing. This post explores our automated features that results in evergreen magazines and books.

Coffee-table Apps Revisited

Legacy book and magazine publishers typically identify a subject; collect data, photos, and illustrations; and write about that subject. Most of that content is now available online.

Search bots at Google, Bing, and Yahoo scour the web for any new content. The best content is presented via search results - and used by the Keys platform.

The Keys Mobile Platform organizes the best of search results into subjects that we call apps; and extends with learning activities to aid memorization.
  • Slide shows and video galleries link to the best content on the web.
  • Spin, match, and guess provide games for memorization exercises.
  • The innovative pictionary with search bots game was the original seed behind our platform.
Evergreen Publishing

Our staff identifies subjects that are potentially interesting to mobile users worldwide. We select a thematic approach to present each subject as a Keys app. It's our unique form of story telling. The result has been a large collection of apps covering a wide range of subjects.

Each app is evergreen.
  • If we select subjects carefully, the app can be timeless and always relevant. This includes historic sports lists, scientific glossaries, and virtual tours by subject.
  • Using search bots, the content self updates - reflecting the best of the web and auto-adjusting the app to changes due to society's evolutionary habits or scientific advancements. Minor editorial adjustments per year should keep these apps focused on the central themes of the selected subject.
  • Our approach is objective - not reflecting political, personal, or editorial bias. Each app is simply the result from the best of the web.
  • We have pushed the state of the web with apps where little information is currently available - and where we forecast growth in content from the global community. This includes apps for regional areas of countries like India or China. As these local communities become more active on the web, our apps focused on those regions will improve automatically.
  • More recently, we've experimented with predictive magazines. With subjects like the emerging war among tablet manufacturers, our app is able to automatically track the hundreds of announcements for new products that is expected to occur in 2011. We did the same for hybrid cars.
  • Mobile technology will improve with faster devices, networks, and servers. This improves the user experience for mobile users.
Evergreen publishing also implies the battle for a greener enviroment. That's a good social goal.

Will these Keys apps self improve with age? Only time will tell the results.

PS: Total downloads now exceed 1,350,000. Thank you.

Jan 8, 2011

Rhymes - the Holistic System for Learning Using Phonics and Rhythm

This new series of five apps supplies over 500 words. The goal is two fold: 1) to help adults learn English as a second language, and 2) for children to remember simple words.

Explicit Versus Holistic Learning

Modern education in the United States has moved toward explicit instructions for every step of learning. This makes no sense - as evidenced by the higher costs for education and lower achievements when compared to world standards over the past 40 years. The public school goal of learning 10 to 20 words in six weeks of elementary school is just one symptom of the problem. Explicit instructions complicate without measured benefits to the learner. Have we become so focused on the teaching metrics - at the huge cost to true learning?
  • Explicit instructions require users to read complex rules and memorize them. If you're still learning the words, isn't this an example of the recursion problem?
  • English rules are full of exceptions to the exceptions. Why do kids feel dumb at such an early age?
The holistic approach emphasizes the natural ability of human minds to identify patterns, create implicit rules, and remember hundreds of words - without reading and memorizing the rules. Remember that children can pronounce and memorize 500 Pokemon names - even when most of the words are multi-syllabic. This applies to both children and learning a second language as an adult.

The positive attitude toward learning becomes a life-time goal.

Rhyming Goals

The Rhymes Apps has been designed to aid spelling, pronunciation, and memorization of basic words.
  • The core of the English language is 5 vowels: a, e, i, o, u.
  • Each vowel has a long and short sound.
  • Hundreds of exceptions complicate learning.
Our holistic approach groups words by vowel and rhyme. We depend on users recognizing one or two words in a group to naturally learn the spelling, pronunciation, and exception handling for each list of words. Thus, users learn without memorizing hundreds of explicit rules.

I'm always amazed that children can remember the lyrics of a song, so easily. It is our belief that the rhymes aid memorization.

Instructions for Learners

Students should be shown the following aspects of using Keys:
  • Tapping a button to select an activity.
  • Tapping the left flow-selector (ie green arrow) to select words.
  • Flipping the page using sideways flicks.
For explicit instructions to these intuitive steps, tap here. ;-)

Try the apps. Enjoy!

Here is our collection of the English series:

One Million Downloads

PS: It's official. This week, we broke over one million downloads. We expect to gain the second million in Q1. Thank you.

Almost 50,000 friends read this blog each month. Visitors arrive via the mobile apps, Facebook, Twitter, and RSS subscriptions. Share with your friends and post at your favorite social network. Thanks in advance.

Dec 14, 2010

Leanback Learning, Ecology, Ecosystem, and Artificial Intelligence

We started the Keys mobile app series some ten months ago. As the downloads march toward the first million mark, let's review our progress and goals for the new year.

Learning Theme

According to Wikipedia,
Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values or preferences. It may involve processing different types of information
Reading is not enough to foster learning. Doing, repeating, and associating images to words leads to learning. Pictionary with bots - our integration of vocabulary words with search images has created a unique, entertaining way to learn. Helping both learners and adults to assimilate more knowledge about both academic and social subjects has been satisfying to our group of authors.

The surprise has been the broad acceptance of Keys by users from around the world. Thank you for your support.

Green Theme

We visited Barnes and Noble this weekend - that wonderful collection of books in one of the largest book stores in our area. As frequent users know, we don't object to books. It's the form of delivery that has become wasteful and destructive.

The learning ambiance of the book store is to be encouraged. However, the alternative view is that this single store represents acres of forests - flattened - when alternatives should be substituted. How much oil is consumed to transport trees to pulp mill, to printing plants, to book warehouses, to stores - and finally into the hands of learners? Wasteful.

Barnes and Noble has been promoting the Nook - their ebook reader. However, among hundreds of shelfs of books - one small table has been allocated to the Nook. The Wi-Fi in the store was so bad that the product was not useless.

By comparison, the Apple store is 100% dedicated to devices that can access far more content than Barnes and Noble. Is it time for book stores to change their focus from 99% paper to 100% digital?
Every download saves a shrub, a can of oil, possibly a dolphin - and one mind.

One World Theme

As we reach out to fans from around the world with apps of interest to a global audience, we're learning that the world is both large and small. Six billion people use mobile phones (ie compared to 1.2 billion with PC access). That's huge.

Interests can vary by country, however, the insatiable demand for food, travel, music, and education topics has been a constant. Sports interests fragment by regions of the world. The global football term has passed American football as the most popular sport on Keys. (Of course, the confusion of the same term with different meanings has caused havoc for search robots. ;-) Education topics aside, the interest in our international collection of 25,000 food recipes has exceeded our expectations. Thus, it's been one world, both big and small.

We'll be exploring more international themes, such as the Mosques of Asia app. Rather than mistrusting each other from lack of first hand information, wouldn't virtual tours allow us to learn the habits of different cultures - leading to greater trust among people on earth? Peace through coffee-table apps.

AI Apps that Learn

As an AI expert from MIT, Keys has been an experimentation platform for my personal interests. AI is the artificial intelligence built into programs that allow the software to emulate human processes. The study does not advocate replacing people with robots, but rather uses processes learned from human thinking and applies them to robotic programming.

Each Keys app has the built-in intelligence to learn and improve. Our AI leverages the intelligence of search engines at Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Those search engines leverage the knowledge of millions of people who post content to the web, cross-reference the best information, and rate what is relevant among our expanding universe of knowledge. (ed: Does this make Keys a large social network?)

The process is dynamic - it changes as users change their parts of their web. Does this dynamic process improve each Keys app over time?

Search robots already provide amble relevant pictures for scientific terms, food recipes, and lists of proper nouns. We've been pushing the limits with apps such as Schools in India and Ich f├╝hle mich. The former pushes available content from remote regions of India. The latter analyzes the ability of search bots to understand adjectives in foreign languages.

If our apps have intelligence, the relevancy of the images for these apps will improve over time - automatically. Will they?


The Keys mobile platform has been a wondrous education for both users and creators. There is much more to accomplish. Thank you for participating. Leanback with a Keys app and enjoy the learning experience.

Aug 8, 2010

Keys, the Advanced Learning Platform

Keys is an advanced, unique learning platform that simplifies complex subjects, aids memorization, and improves your scores on public exams.

Unlike trivial, boring glossary lists, Keys centralizes and livens the wealth of information on the web directly onto your touch device with a tap.
  • Our thoughtful concept maps organize hundreds of terms into chapters and units - telling stories that simplify learning via subject context
  • Unique flow selectors ease access to terms and chapters
  • Each term has a subject specific definition with live links to relevant web pages
  • Terms use age appropriate words for kids, teens, and adults - depending on the specific app
  • Supporting images from search embed with no typing required - to associate terms with thousands of rich, graphical representations on the web, thus promoting unconscious competence (ie painless learning)
  • Classic flash card, match, and slots activities maintain interest during repetitive exposure - while stimulating kinesthetic neural bonds in your memory cortex
  • Innovative Pictionary with a search-bot game for testing comprehension
  • Unique, responsive animations for the best user experience on touch devices
Keys makes learning fun for all ages.

Customer Comments

Here are some of the comments that we have collected from reviews, emails, and other communications:
  • 'What a wonderful idea,' Becky Drummond, Santa Cruz, CA
  • 'Greetings from down under. Love this app,' Byron Smith, Melbourne
  • 'Surprised by the impact of this app. New words appear in my social conversations, unconsciously. Great,' Liz Chung, New York, NY
  • 'A true pleasure to see my child spending so much time with the SAT app,' Katy French, Atlanta GA
  • 'Bio AP with thousands of terms - bring it on...,' Kevin Rowland, Thousand Oaks, CA
  • 'Silence and learning while driving to the beach, two birds with one stone,' Pam Benzine, Los Altos, CA
  • 'We would like to convert your apps to Chinese,' Irene Cheng, Shanghai, CN
  • 'Down side is my kids justify using my phone all the time,' David Larson, New York, NY
  • 'Both my senior and myself have been learning/re-learning chemistry with this app. Thks,' M. Brophy, London, UK
  • 'As a developer, I initially down rated this app. After using it for a month, I changed to up rate. Congrads,' M. Malik, San Jose, CA 'Some of the pictures seem off topic. Overall it's brilliant,' Phil Chin, Boston, MA
  • 'Great for learning English as second language,' Tanzier, India
  • 'Memorization has been my weakness. This app makes it easy,' Bob Cohn, Montreal, CN
  • 'Broke 100 on the game. Wanted to tell someone,' Edward C., San Jose, CA
  • 'My son gained 87 points on his second SAT. Don't know how much this app has helped,' Lisa Ting, Saratoga, CA
  • 'Highly recommend these apps,', Gil Roberts, Palo Alto, CA
Join the 100,000 plus who have downloaded Keys apps.

Jul 6, 2010

Keys Learning Activities

All apps have been updated to include the new, slide-show activity to aid learning.

More About Learning

We've improved our focus on learning.
  • Flow selectors group relevant terms into chapters and sections. Unlike an alphabetical glossary that makes the list of terms long and cumbersome, grouping puts terms into topic context which aids learning.
  • Association of terms with images from search results from Google, Bing, and Yahoo accelerate understanding and comprehension with what academics call unconscious competence development. This is the painless way to learn.
  • When terms have multiple meanings outside of the context of the target subject, the search services provide more rich images, as well. The alert user notes the variations and develops conscious competence of the term when used in a context different from the target subject.
  • Repetition - more time-spent with relevant terms converts to both conscious and unconscious competence
  • Kinesthetic learning from touch, typed spelling, active selection of terms - and even flipping from page to page has a similar impact on learning as the repetitive homework that requires writing of words or notes about a subject
Most importantly, the mobile devices themselves have helped learning. We've observed groups crowd around one device, changing the public image to learning is cool. This is wonderful.

Keys Learning Activities

Each Keys app targets a subject and an age-group - ie kids, teens, adults. Activities within the app support learning.
  • Learn is a slide show activity to review the terms of a subject. (More below.)
  • Spin uses a slot-machine model to show terms. Although conservative educators may object to the gambling image, this activity has been the most used, probably because of the simplicity of the model. Frequent use means learning - which is a good outcome.
  • Match is the classic concentration game. The game itself teaches focus. Paying attention earns the reward of finding the matching images - and the unconscious memorization of the target term.
  • Guess is our original, innovative Pictionary with search robots game/activity. Robots tirelessly supply images based on a term. What term was used to generate the image results?
We'll continue expanding the set of activities to keep learning fresh for all users.

Learning Slide Show

The latest activity simulates flash cards with our unique presentation twist.
  • Each card presents a term and its definition.
  • Images are pulled from search engines to support the presentation.
  • Unlike the other activities, we've pulled a high resolution image from Microsoft Bing for this activity. This has the positive effect of better images - but the negative result of slower image access - particularly when used with slow 3G networks and/or slow image servers. If this problem is wide-spread, we may change to low resolution images for this activity.
  • Every image is a live link to the source. Users can learn more about a term by tapping the image.
In summary, embedded search results uniquely support our implementation of the classic flash card model. We call this the expandable flash card (excard) model. Isn't this the right model for web learning?

App Upgrades

Each mobile platform has different processes for upgrades. For most, the upgrade is automatic and there is no additional fee. Click here to see an example.

Happy learning!

PS: Over 100,000 visitors play monthly at Keep up the good work ;-)

Jun 14, 2010

The Keys Learning Platform, and Seeking Partners

Education is a huge industry. Here is a sharpening of our focus to serve the diverse needs.

Education Stats

Roughly 5% of the $60 trillion, global GDP is spent on educating K through 12 students. Of the 20% of the population in this age group; 70% attend schools.

The US spends $500 billion or 5.7% of GDP on compulsory K-12 education. Additionally, 18 million students attend college which Hoover's estimates as a $475 billion industry. However, the US dominance of higher education could be as much as 2/3rds of the global total.

It's huge.

Diversity of Needs

Needs vary by age, subject, culture, and stage. The chart below summarizes the age, stage matrix.

age kidsteensadults

concept learning
keys+ partner website, video, or bookkeys+ partner website, video, or book

  • Although there are 13-grades and 4 years or more of college, learners have the innate ability to absorb facts far beyond the standards for their age group. Students in the Cupertino High Schools receive science instructions that exceed the levels taught at community colleges. Our current focus is primarily self-paced, supplemental learning.
  • To simplify, we have segmented learning targets into kids, teens, and adults - and allow learners to progress at their own pace. For example, the bio-series includes the Animals Collection for kids, Life Sciences and Biology for teens, and Bio AP for advanced high school and college use. The chem-series provides the same pattern with Kids Chem, Chemistry, and Chem AP.
  • Our focus has been mostly on advanced learning for teens and adults - where the subject matter tends toward more complexity. Kids have been well served by thousands of innovative mobiles apps. Teens and adults have been poorly served.
  • Subject diversity is limited in elementary school, covering the big-5 of language, math, science, history, and geography. We've already made strong progress to cover the entire spectrum of subject needs - and will continue to improve our coverage of core subjects.
  • For college and professional learning, the subjects bloom into the advanced details for thousands of courses where we seek partners.
  • In different countries, variations in culture may require different emphasis. Overall, the web has forced a level playing field. Anyone with the desire to compete has access to all knowledge. Thus, cultural differences in what we learn will diminish in importance. All learners need the internalized knowledge to compete on this global stage.
  • Learning includes stages that include comprehending concepts; memorizing and internalizing the terms; and unfortunately, the aspect of testing required by governments and some institutes of higher learning.
  • Thousands of apps cover testing and concept learning - the latter served via videos and innovative animations of concepts.
  • The core strengths of Keys has been the missing stage to aid memorization and internalization of thousands of complex terms.
The early 100,000 plus downloads that we have received is testimonial to the under-served needs for advanced learning among global users.

Seeking the Aha Moment

Ultimately, learning is personal.

Learners need the individual attention that helps them to overcome the personal barriers that block learning. As kids or adults, everyone has had those moments when the cloud of mystery clears to reveal true insight.

With the aid of a motivated teacher, tutor, professor, or mentor; a show on TV; the massive content on the web; or even one word that clarifies - we need many more aha moments.

Let's integrate the technology lessons to help that process.

Calling for Parters

Although we've made efforts to introduce concepts through concept maps and flow selectors - integrating Keys with the concepts best taught through videos, textbooks, and/or websites would better serve the needs of individual learners.

Do you have the passion to better serve learners?

Contact us to discuss your ideas.

May 29, 2010

tEarn Product Research

The web offers a wealth of research information. Our staff collates knowledge from dozens of credible sources to compile each product line. Here is an overview of our process.

Aside: guess the search term for these images from Bing!


We gain assistance from search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Flickr, and Picasa for results by term.
  • The images we show depend on the quality of service from each provider.
  • Our service indirectly sources information from millions of websites.
  • We provide attribution for each source (ie via double-click on images).
  • If a source chooses not to participate, please check with the search companies on the steps to remove images from search results. By so doing, the images would be automatically replaced by the next best choice as determined by the search robots.
  • All search services often show an image that states an image is not available. This is a notification that an image is in the process of being removed, and not a flaw in the system. In time, these notices are replaced by other relevant images.
Our breadth of research has shown that the leading search engines show incredible intelligence in selecting images for any search term. In general, the search engines perform the best with Proper nouns, nouns, adjectives, and verbs - in that order.

With many words, there is always room for improvement. Some terms produce silly and irrelevant photos, which is understandable given the breadth of the search challenge.

We encourage the researchers at these companies to continue improving the Artificial Intelligence engines that drive the search results.

Terms and Definitions

We generally start with lists from dozens of credible sources for each subject - carefully selecting those that are public or out-of-copyright. For example, we use that is a collection of out-of-copyright dictionaries and public sources like NASA who have granted fair use.
  • We categorize and organize terms by topic, organizing into chapters, lessons, and sub-lessons.
  • For key or highlighted lessons, we research the topic to produce the most comprehensive glossary possible. In every case, we have found numerous omissions and holes, even among top college textbooks and public encyclopedias like For example, for the upcoming SAT hot-words list, we have compiled what we believe is the best list of 1,100 words that have appeared on past SAT exams.
  • We then remove duplicates, merge definitions for the best clarity, and eliminate terms that plump and confuse without providing social-redeeming value.
  • We try to maintain our consistency in defining words, staying with the singular form.
  • Definitions can be simplified since words are defined within the context of chapters and lessons. We estimate that this reduces 50% of the clutter in reading about a term.
  • We depend on the images to define multiple uses of a word and the many subtle meanings of each term. The terms are only defined relative to the lesson context.
  • We add parts that distinguish similar terms within a context that often confuse. For example, meiosis and mitosis has been a classic learning challenge. Differentiating compounds from molecules helps learners overcome the basics of chemistry.
  • Whenever possible, we choose to simplify - trying to avoid the redundancy of complex terms that slows comprehension.
Live Products

Unlike printed products, each product is live.

No knowledge of a subject can ever be perfect. As we gain feedback from users and friends, we update to improve each product. Those updates are automatically available to all users.

If we can help one child per village overcome the fears of learning and gain the love for knowledge, we have done our job.

Join us.

May 21, 2010

Patterns for Learning

Too many complex words, phrases, and terms slow the learning process - many with subtle differences in meaning among terms - like meosis versus mitosis. Yet, the richness of any communication medium enables innovation, entertainment, and more learning.

How do we overcome this conundrum to accelerate learning?

The Recursion Problem

Complex terms overwhelm descriptions of most advanced subjects. New terms describe more new terms - resulting in a massive recursion problem.

Recursion has three types:
  • Language use: complexity due to language conventions like singular and plural forms (eg pili versus pilus;) noun versus adjective (chordate versus chordatian;) and informal versus the formal class (chordate versus Chordata.)
  • Descriptive recursion: when a word is defined using new terms - each with distractive link that brings more new terms.
  • System recursion: complex systems have parts where each part is another challenging term. As one delves deeper from organisms, to organs, to tissues, to cells, to chromosomes, to DNA, to genes, to molecules, and finally to atoms - the terms can be overwhelming even though the concepts can be easily understood.
From my personal experience, whether learning to read 8,000 Chinese characters; mastering the thousands of cross-platform terms and packages used to describe the iPhone, Android, webos, and IE9 mobile coding; dealing with legal terms; or conquering the 4,000-term biology project - the recursion problem has slowed learning even though the fundamental lessons are relatively simple.

Systematic Patterns for Learning

The Keys platform is evolving toward a pattern for categorizing thousands of complex terms. Here is the basic dictionary:
  • Learning starts with observing objects, patterns, and systems. Kids start with images of objects and associate with words - both written and spoken. What we read is often descriptions of objects, patterns, and systems.
  • Patterns can be informal descriptions like two objects look similar or formal classes with an ordering and agreed-to method like the taxonomy structure for organisms. Overcoming superficial patterns to learn subtle differences leads to the type of learning that results in future jobs.
  • Systems describe parts, materials, functions, and processes. An object can have one or more subsystems; and also be parts of larger systems. The main systems inside humans include circulatory, digestive, excretory, immune, muscular, and sensory; but humanoids are also parts of societies, communities, and ecosystems.
Recognizing and creating patterns, diving into systems and learning how they work, and understanding the role of objects in larger systems - isn't that the fundamentals of learning? and innovation?

Here are a few more of the emerging details on how we categorize terms:
  • Parts describe components of a system like bones, muscles, and connective tissues. Materials categorize disposable parts like enzymes and hormones.
  • Function describes the general use of an object. Process describes the steps that a system of parts use to coordinate the function. Methods describe human-developed steps for analysis.
Sample Application of Patterns

The comparative reproduction chapter of the Bio AP collection shows an example of this Keys-pattern at work.
  • The overall process unites an egg and sperm.
  • Oogenesis and spermatogenesis describes systems for producing these key parts. These lessons include the parts, materials, and processes where the end result is a gamete.
  • Fertilization, gastrulation, organogenesis, and morphogenesis follow the formation of a zygote. Each is a system with parts, materials, and process.
  • The chapter further compares the process for bacteria, protists, invertebrates, amniotes, and mammals.
One picture provides the overall pattern that helps to categorize the richness of the reproductive subject matter -covering the tough terms and concepts for accelerated comprehension of a dozen chapters in college-level textbook.

Using Keys for Learning

Our goal is to improve comprehension of textbooks and lectures by first introducing the terms used. Here are the steps:
  • Examine the overview of a chapter and learn the fundamentals of the top view.
  • Do this before reading textbooks - i.e. know the basic terms prior to reading.
  • Practice with each chapter after reading the textbook - to cement memorization of the key terms.
  • It's not necessary to memorize every term.
  • It is important to learn many terms, and see the context of words within a subject matter.
  • Use the games to associate terms with images; and self-entertain as a small motivator to spend time learning.
  • Practice prior to tests like the SAT.
Remember that even when working, search is just one step away. Understanding that leads to comprehension of the search or wiki results is our goal.

When you read web content and recognize right from wrong information among the billions of pages - that's Nirvana!

Discovering Patterns

As with all emerging systematics, differences in opinion and discovered facts cloud any new method. Our goal is to shape buckets of complex terms by placing them into a context that is easier to remember.

Work with us to improve the learning process.
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