Brian Tobal is, by his own admission, obsessed with retaining knowledge. As a graduate student he would track how many pages he read and measure his memory with little quizzes, a habit he has kept up over time.
“I treat how I learn how bodybuilders treat going to the gym,” he tells Business Insider.
With his new Y Combinator-backed company, Hickory, Tobal has funneled that obsession into building a system to tell precisely when you are going to forget something, and then prod you so you don’t.
Hickory is launching primarily as a dynamic training system for the sales and customer service teams of companies like Dish Network — with 10-20 companies at launch.
The company’s immediate goal is to help these employees retain all the knowledge people usually forget after intial training. “We treat learning as an ongoing process, not a one time event,” Tobal says.
To this end, Hickory breaks the knowledge you have to retain into “cards” and continually arranges them in the optimal manner, refreshing your brain with small quizzes every day. These quizzes take about 3 minutes per day, or 15-20 minutes over the course of the week, and have proven effective for remember job training details, according to Tobal.
So how does Hickory know when you will forget something?
Tobal says the program tracks various data points, like how long you spend reading the information, your track record on answering questions related to it, and what you rate your “confidence level” at.
This confidence level indicator is key. Tobal stresses that there is a big difference between completely not remembering something and having it on the tip of your tongue. And Hickory’s system is built to focus on the information that is hardest for you, shuffling the easy stuff down so it’s not reviewed as often.
What Tobal seems to be most fascinated by is perfecting the type of “refresher” that will help you retain knowledge.
“What is better for what type of content,” Tobal muses. “Multiple choice, open answer, simulation?” The implementation of Hickory’s new system will give Tobal the opportunity to test out his theories.
“I think different types of information should be used in different types of contexts,” he says. “Whenever you are first learning it is best to use text. You can read in a faster pace, you can skip and skim, but if you don’t understand, video is the best way to go. It takes longer. And if it is more exploratory, audio is nice.”
And he says some of the best testing of theories can happen on customer service representatives. “They are the most monitored people in the organisation. There are lots of transcripts, etcetera.”
More data for Tobal to pour over. More for him to learn.
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