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Memorang educational startup proves helpful as study aid for students in higher education

Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ask a doctor when he or she reached the breaking point in life, and chances are, the response you’ll get is "medical school." Memorizing large quantities of information can sometimes be an insurmountable hurdle for students in a number of fields. Often times, online resources focus on teaching elementary topics and cannot accommodate the learning strategies required for higher education. Luckily, some bright minds in the online-education sphere are working to create innovative solutions to this problem.

Carnegie Mellon alumna Tria Chang (Professional Writing & Communication Design, 2007) currently works as the Director of Content at Memorang, an educational startup company that focuses on “leveling the playing field” for students of higher education. Memorang purports to be a high-quality educational tool that costs less than traditional online-learning websites. The website promotes open learning by offering free tools and material that is user-generated, as well as expert-created content with a subscription plan.

"Students in higher education need the most help." said Yermie Cohen, the CEO of the San Francisco-based startup. Cohen co-founded the company in 2013, and holds Bachelor's degrees in Biology and Mechanical Engineering from MIT. While in medical school at UCLA, Yermie struggled with the switch from problem-solving in college to memorization. He faced the same challenge that confronts many students at institutions of higher learning: study tools designed to work for high school tests were simply ineffective.

Sensing the need for a service to fulfill this niche, he approached fellow MIT graduate George Courtsunis to create Memorang. Today, the partners work with Tria, software engineers, and a team of content experts to continuously build and update their service. Getting to where they are now, though, was no walk in the park.

Cohen had some words of advice for those seeking to start their own companies. He said that it is crucial for individuals to "find the strength to pull through, and to do what it takes." In his case, Cohen had to learn to program from scratch. "Learning new skills" is all part of the process, he said.

To say that his efforts have been successful would be an understatement. Memorang has scaled massively in the last few years, with paying subscribers in sixty countries and users having collectively answered 30 million questions. Already, about one in three medical students use Memorang to study for the MCATs, the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), and board exams.

While many of the students are in medical studies, the website also caters to other types of standardized tests, such as the GRE, and is working towards covering fields such as finance with CPA exam prep. The website is even used by individuals diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities, as it uses repetitive teaching styles that solidly anchor material in the mind.

The website offers flashcards and multiple choice questions among an array of other studying techniques. Users can also import materials from other websites, such as Quizlet or StudyBlue. With a subscription, the website offers expert-developed learning tools that are designed specifically to improve information retention. Memorang uses a special technique called spaced repetition to help students concentrate on the topics that are challenging for them. The study time is broken up into sessions that take into account the demanding schedules of many students.

The website implements learning strategies developed by professionals with expertise in a variety of subjects, from educational psychology to big data analytics and even rocket science. Content experts work to create material that has a real impact.

In 2014, Memorang was implemented in a study at UCLA. A group of 20 students who had failed their diagnostic medical board exams used the service for six to eight weeks, and saw remarkable results. Their scores improved by an entire standard deviation, with a passing rate of 100 percent.

With initial successes among medical and other graduate-level students, Memorang has plans to expand even further. Beyond helping students in higher learning, Cohen sees the tool as something that can be used by students of all ages. A new version of the service, called Memorang 2.0, was released this past week and includes games and other user-friendly interfaces to help students of all ages grasp concepts. Cohen himself is a true believer in the virtues of his creation, and uses it himself to study for medical exams. After all, he said, the goal is "to build a tool that works." Cohen added that the purpose of the company is to provide help that he wishes he had as a student.

Memorang has potential for implementation here at Carnegie Mellon. With a large graduate student body attending the Mellon College of Science, Carnegie Mellon fits Memorang’s target demographic. The service can help a great number of students study for those all-important standardized exams, whether for medical school or other higher education programs. As a tool designed specifically for students of higher education, Memorang may very soon become a commonly used name on campus.