David Shanks and Rosalind Potts, scientists in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London, United Kingdom, have teamed up with the online learning community Memrise to tackle an age-old problem: how to learn a new language — fast.
The $10,000 Memrise Prize challenges contestants to “create the most powerful methodology for memorizing new information.” Contestants will devise a 1-hour learning program to teach English speakers previously unfamiliar Lithuanian vocabulary. Those programs that perform well against a control method will pass to the next round of the contest to be reviewed by independent judges, including experts on memory and neuroscience.
Entries selected as finalists by the expert judges will be tested on 1,000 specially selected Memrise users, whose retention of the new Lithuanian vocabulary will be evaluated 1 week after they complete the training. Test subjects’ performance on the evaluation will be used to determine the winner of the contest.
In addition to a monetary prize of $10,000, the winner or winners of the competition will be invited to coauthor a scientific publication highlighting their winning strategy.
“Cognitive and educational psychology and neuroscience have unearthed a vast number of factors which influence how effectively humans retain information,” says Shanks in an interview published by the Psychonomic Society, “yet we still don’t really know how best to combine these factors, to maximize the effectiveness of memorization.”
Shanks hopes that through encouraging creativity and shared knowledge, the Memrise Prize contest will “drive forward our shared understanding of the human mind.”
The contest deadline is February 28, 2015.