A new version of the Lernabit Android app is available. This version of the app adds a splash screen while the app starts.
Otherwise, this is a bug fix release, including a fix for broken profile images in the navigation drawer.
Today is the 1 year anniversary of the relaunch of Lernabit.
Initially, Lernabit was just a place to get free 10 minute long audio lectures about a range of different topics. Those short 5-10 minute long audio lectures were called “Bits”, and the goal was to help people learn new things in short periods of free time. And because they were in audio format, you could listen while working out, doing housework, etc. But the first version of the site had a lot of different design flaws that prevented it from gaining much traction. So in June 2016 I took Lernabit offline to rebuild it from the ground up. On September 22, 2016, the brand new site was relaunched. Here is what it looked like:
One of the most important changes that came with the relaunch was the ability for anyone to create their own Bits. Before that, I was the only one creating them. But I learned that most of the educational value came from the process of creating them, and listening was just a way of keeping the knowledge fresh. So the new version of the site allowed anyone to create audio lectures of their own and share them with other people.
Since the relaunch 1 year ago, Lernabit has continued to evolve. The Bits are now called “Notes”, and they aren’t just audio format anymore; you can also create Notes in image or text format. Another change that has taken place since the relaunch is with the addition of privacy features on your notes. Back when they were called “Bits”, they could only be public. After changing them to “Notes”, I added the ability to creating private Notes as well.
In that time period, the Android app and the website have gone through many design changes, the most notable change being the switch from a green to a blue color scheme. There have also been a lot of improvements in speed and mobile device usage.
So what has Lernabit actually accomplished in this last year?
We’ve provided free educational content to people in 76 different countries. It is interesting to see a map of where people are visiting Lernabit:
As expected, most of the visitors are from the United States. But this map really becomes interesting when you compare it to this map of global internet availability:
The same portions of Africa, the Middle East, and South America are lighter. Now, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; people without internet access won’t have much luck accessing a website. The real reason these maps are interesting is because they validate an important philosophy behind Lernabit.
Since day 1 of Lernabit, the goal has been to make education more accessible around the world. But any attempt to make education more accessible must consider the fact that there are many different barriers to education, and each one needs its own solution. That’s why I never did believe that a website alone would magically bring education to people around the world. When the site relaunched a year ago, I decided to pledge 5% of all profits to charities focused on education around the world. Now this is where you come in.
Now that a little bit of money is starting to come in from Lernabit, I look forward to making good on my pledge to support charities. I want everyone reading this to leave a comment telling me about your favorite education-related charities. They can be big or small, in the US or abroad, but they must be focused on education. Tell me what you like about them. After doing some research myself, I’ll pick one to be the recipient of the first donation from Lernabit. Let’s try to bring education to the people living in the lighter spots on those maps.
The latest version of the Lernabit Android app has been released. Version 2.4.17 has some important bug fixes.
One critical bug was a crash caused when the screen orientation changed while recording audio. That has been fixed. This release also has fixes for note syncing. There are some design improvements scattered throughout the app to improve navigation around the app.
A new update for the Lernabit Android app should be appearing soon in your list of updates.
Version 2.4.16 includes a major change to the home screen by moving the search box up to the top of the screen. Where the search box used to be, you will now see a list of suggested notes that you might like. These suggestions are based on the notes in your review list, which is a good indication of the types of content you want to learn more about. If you don’t have any notes on your review list yet, it just pulls up a random selection of notes with a high score (more on that in a second). As you add more notes to your review list, it can give better suggestions.
The suggestions are also partially based on a scoring system that has been built to help find the best notes on Lernabit. The score for a note is based on a variety of data points like word count, the number of people who have that note on their review list, and others. However, the score does not consider the publication date of the note. There is already a feed to see the most recent notes in chronological order. The scoring algorithm is designed to help find the best notes overall and to dig up notes you might find interesting regardless of when they were created. It is only used sporadically right now and will be applied to more features in the future as the algorithm is tweaked and improved.
Also new in version 2.4.16 is a major performance improvement in infinite scrolling, plus some other minor bug fixes, design changes, and performance improvements.
Just a quick update. The latest version of the Android app has just been released (version 2.4.15).
There are a lot of optimizations and bug fixes, but the coolest feature is the new ability to take notes while offline. When you create a new note, the app will try to create it as normal. If no internet connection is available, it gets saved for later. Then, the next time you start the app, it will check for an internet connection again and upload the notes that were created offline. This also works with attachments.
With the ability to take notes offline, the app becomes a lot more useful in situations where an internet connect is not available, such in remote areas where you might find interesting plants or wildlife. It is also useful for places like museums which often have poor wifi (at least in my experience).
Are you a visual learner? A lot of us are. And even for those who are not primarily visual learners, sometimes an image or diagram can make a concept so much easier to understand. That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that Lernabit now supports the use of image attachments in notes.
Lernabit has already supported audio and text format notes for a long time, and images are just one of many other formats that will become available over time. And, as with audio format notes, even if you attach an image to your note, you can still add up to 10,000 characters of text. By adding an image with ample text, you can create a rich visual explanation of a concept while writing a thorough description to point out specific parts of the image that are worth noticing.
I got a great chance to put the new image feature to a field test during a recent family trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. During my trip, I found all kinds of cool ways to use the Android app to make my visit to the zoo far more educational than it would have been otherwise. Here are just a few examples:
It speaks to the amazing diversity of life when someone like me, with a degree in biology, can still find a surprising number of animals I’ve never heard of before. One example is Coquerel’s Sifaka, which is a type of lemur that can jump 20 feet. When I found such an animal, I would take a picture of it, title the note with the name of the animal, and add some hashtags so it would be easier to find.
Another way I used the app was to take pictures of the fact cards on display at the exhibits, especially the ones with cool facts about the animals. For example, I learned that sea lions hunt using echolocation similar to how bats find their prey. I took a picture of the plaque and turned it into a note.
Speaking of bats, I was talking to a zoo employee about the fruit bats. She told me that the skin on a bat’s wing is the fastest-healing membrane in nature. I thought that was really cool, and wrote it down in Lernabit with some hashtags so it is found by other people reading about bats who might find that interesting. See the note here
One of the most useful applications of image notes was in helping me understand the differences between things. For example, there was a sign explaining the different spot patterns of different kinds of giraffes. If someone explained it to me, I don’t know if I would fully grasp it. But seeing them side by side made the difference very clear, so I took a picture of the sign and made that a note.
Another case where this was useful was at a display showing the differences between crocodiles and alligators. They had a skull from each one side by side, and the difference is actually quite obvious when you see them together. See the note
Outside of my visit to the zoo, I’ve also found some other ways the new image feature can be useful.
In microbiology, there are 2 main types of bacteria, known as Gram positive and Gram negative, and they are primarily distinguished by the structure of the cell wall. Trying to describe this with text would be a hopeless effort. But a diagram showing them side by side makes it easy to see the details of how they are different. I found such a diagram online, so I uploaded the image to Lernabit, added some hashtags, and included a link to the original source so I can go back if I need more information. See that note here.
About a month ago I made a visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a wedding. While I was there I had the chance to swing by and visit the Art Deco museum downtown. I never really understood what art deco was. But seeing it in person helped me understand not only what it looks like, but how it was influenced by other trends of the time period, such as the fascination with Egyptian relics and the push for more women’s rights.
At the time, Lernabit didn’t support images. But I still took a lot of pictures and have now uploaded them to Lernabit. You can pretty much tour the museum right from Lernabit, or get more information while you are there in person. And with the hashtags, you can browse around and see how the art deco style relates to other related topics, like the Egyptian history that influenced it.
These examples only scratch the surface of what you can accomplish by adding images to Lernabit. It is an exciting feature that greatly expands the power of Lernabit to feed the curious mind. Create a free account here
Over the course of Lernabit, people have written to me and said that they like the concept of learning new things by teaching others. But as I spoke to more people, I noticed a few common objections that would keep coming up again. For example, some people said they liked the idea of learning through audio, but said they didn’t want to make their lectures publicly available to everyone else. Others told me that they like the concept of learning by teaching others, but weren’t thrilled about creating audio lectures to do it. Today, I’m excited to announce a new feature on Lernabit called Notes, which clears up those problems and just about all of the other common complaints.
So what are Notes exactly? Previously, Lernabit was comprised entirely of audio lectures called “Bits”. You would use the app to create an audio lecture for others. By doing so, you would improve your own understanding of the subject while creating free educational content for others.
I like to think of Notes as basically being Bits 2.0, because Notes can do all of that and a lot more. Notes allow you to create notes about new things you learn, and Lernabit will remind you when it is time to review it. Your notes can be in audio or text format, with more formats coming soon. In addition, Notes can be public or private. So if you want to create public audio lectures for others to learn from, you can still do that with Notes. The difference is that Bits required you to do that, while Notes just makes that an option.
This simple chart shows Bits and Notes side by side:
Create notes in audio format
Create notes in text format
Create public notes for others to read
Create private notes for you only
Automatically create a schedule to review your notes
Because Notes can do everything Bits could do and so much more, Bits have gone away completely and all existing content has been converted to Notes. That eliminates redundant features and avoids any confusion between the two features. In addition, “Notes” is a more intuitive name for new visitors than “Bits”. It is a lot more obvious what the feature does.
Along with the added ability to write notes in text-only format, Notes have some other cool capabilities.
The real magic happens when the One Click Remember feature comes into the picture. As you browse public notes from other people, there is a button that allows you to remember it with one click. Just click that button, and that note will be added to your review schedule. When you find a cool Note, you can remember it forever with one click.
Notes support the use of hashtags to categorize your notes and easily explore related topics.
The search feature has full support for the new privacy settings. When you enter a search, it will check if you are logged in and automatically include your own private notes in the search results along with public content from others. One search will show you whatever is most relevant, whether it was created by you or someone else.
There are a lot of benefits to taking notes in small chunks. For example, research has found that when you shuffle your content before reviewing it, you are more likely to remember it. Notes makes that easier to do by being optimized for quickly taking many small notes in rapid succession, as you might do while watching a lecture.
These optimizations include preserving information that is likely to stay the same. For instance, Notes taken in rapid succession at a lecture will likely all be given the same privacy setting, so that form option will stay the same so you don’t have to keep manually selecting that option. Just write your note, throw in some hashtags, and submit it. The form will clear itself and get ready for the next note.
While the Note form is optimized for many small notes, not everybody likes to study that way. If you prefer a longer, in-depth explanation, you can do that too. Notes can be quite long– up to 10,000 characters in length. As a comparison, this blog post up to this point is about 4,000 characters. Even at that character limit, you can also attach an audio file to it for even more information.
Lernabit Notes are a step up from Bits, providing a range of powerful new tools to learn, study, and share your knowledge.
It has been a while since I last posted here on the blog, so I thought I would write about some of the stuff I’ve been working on lately. While there haven’t been any monumental changes since my last post, there have been a lot of incremental improvements across the site. So let me point out some of the recent changes to Lernabit.
A problem for a long time was the lack of discoverability on Lernabit. The site has had a very good search function for a long time, but that is only useful if you know what you are looking for. When you just want to discover new topics, that isn’t as useful, so I built some nice new ways to browse Bits. In addition to seeing the most recent Bits, you can now browse using any of these other methods:
The page to listen to an individual Bit has had some design enhancements. Based on some experiments to see how people use Lernabit, I’ve added some features and removed others to focus more on the stuff people want.
Along with removing unnecessary clutter from the Bit page, I’ve made some other optimizations to the code. Together, these changes have decreased page load times by about 40%.
In addition to site changes, I’ve also been exploring other topics to teach. Most of the lectures on Lernabit focus on science, because the lack of science education and outright rejection of science is– in my opinion– a significant threat to our well-being over the coming years. But it is also true that different topics are best taught in different ways. For example, science education is best when it challenges your critical thinking, history is often best taught as a story, while foreign language requires frequent recall and repetition. So my goal is to explore the limits of Lernabit as a teaching platform by using it to teach a wider range of subjects. That, in turn, can uncover new ways to make it even better.
Thanks for using Lernabit, and have a great 2017!
It has been a long time since I’ve posted here. Sorry about that, but I’ve mostly been busy writing code on the site and the Android app. Recently you might have noticed some substantial speed improvements on the site, as well as bug fixes and interface improvements. I’m also currently working on a tagging system and some other ways to make it easier to browse and discover lectures.
But what I really want to talk about today is the Android app. After months of work, I’m happy to announce that the Android app for Lernabit is now in open alpha phase!
The Android app does all of the things you can do on the website. As with most mobile apps, it responds more quickly than the website and has a shorter startup time. But I didn’t just want the app to be a mobile version of the website, because the website is already designed to work on any screen size. Mobile apps have a lot of potential to leverage some of the exciting hardware on phones to do things a web browser can’t.
Specifically, the real benefit of a mobile app for Lernabit is that the phone has a built in microphone, which makes it much easier for anyone to create their own lectures. As such, this feature is the major focus of the app right now. I built it using what I’ve learned from experience creating a lot of lectures myself. You can use the app to record your own lectures and upload them to Lernabit. But I didn’t stop there.
The app is designed to work side-by-side with the website as one unified publishing tool. When creating lectures, I personally find it helpful to have notes available while recording the audio. You can actually do that with the app. You can open the website on your computer and write your notes directly into the publisher, then use the app on your phone to record the lecture while reading the notes on your computer. When you are done, just submit both of them and they will be paired up automatically. Pretty cool!
For anyone who might not know, Alpha Phase– or Alpha testing– is a phase of software development when the software is built, but is still far from perfect.
As far as the Lernabit app is concerned, it is done, and it can be downloaded and used, but there might still be some bugs. But as long as you have it installed, you will continue to get bug fixes delivered through the Google Play store as those updates become available.
To get the app, search for Lernabit in the Google Play store, or just click the link below:
In my previous post, I set out my plan to take Lernabit offline so I could rebuild the site with numerous improvements in mind. Today, after months of development, I’m excited to announce that the new Lernabit is live! Read on to find out what is new, and what is in store going forward.
The most significant change to Lernabit is that anyone can now create Bits of their own. In version 1 of the site, only I could create Bits. But after making many of them, I began to realize just how valuable the process of actually creating Bits was to my own education.
The best way to reinforce your own knowledge of a subject is to teach it to others. That part is not a new idea. But what I found out was that teaching via audio is particularly effective at strengthening your knowledge.
When teaching through a format like video, you can often let yourself get away with not knowing every last detail. If you don’t quite grasp something, you can just show a diagram or an image that might help the students understand, but it doesn’t help you understand. Audio doesn’t allow this. When all you have are words, it forces you to understand every little detail so that you can explain it without images.
Realizing this, I decided that the new Lernabit would be a place not only where people could learn, but it would be a platform where they can also teach others what they know, thereby improving their own understanding of the topic.
With this goal in mind, I focused a lot on creating a powerful publishing tool that would make it as easy as possible to create educational audio content. The new tool allows you to write notes on what you want to teach, save drafts to come back and work on later, and easily upload the audio file for your Bit. Once you publish it, it’s immediately live on the site so others can listen to it.
The second major change to the site is a pledge to donate at least 5% of all profits from the site to charities focused on education around the world. The goal of Lernabit has always been to make education more accessible. But while creating educational audio content is a major step toward making that happen, it still isn’t enough.
According to data released by Facebook, there are still 4 billion people around the world without Internet access. In addition, a wide range of economic, political, and social problems prevent people from obtaining the education needed to improve their economic situation and create positive change for their communities. As a for-profit venture, I believe Lernabit can be a powerful tool to help change this.
One of the cool parts about Lernabit is that the educational content is all created by you. Since it doesn’t cost me anything to create that content, I can afford to give the money to some of the excellent non-profit organizations that are building schools, improving infrastructure, and improving lives through education.
I believe it is important for us to realize that lack of education is not a single problem; it is a set of many problems that each need a different solution. When for-profit businesses team up with nonprofit organizations and we each attack different problems, we can create real change. So I’m proud to pledge a portion of all profits from Lernabit to help find the solutions we need.
A top priority is to create a native Android app. In my last post, I said I was unsure whether or not this would be available right away. I’ve decided to wait before releasing that. A working version is already built, but it is still very unstable and not quite ready for prime time. However, if you are interested in being a beta tester for the app, let me know in the comments or message me on Twitter or Facebook.
Some other ideas and features coming up are:
One last note: If you had an account on the old site, your old login username and password should still work. Or you can just use the “Forgot Password” tool if you don’t remember your login data.
I’m excited about this new site. The new features and my pledge to support nonprofits will be powerful tools to improve education around the world.