Technical Summary

An outline of the hallmark features of the iCanStudy study system and online course.
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Overview of our approach

The iCanStudy systems for studying utilise multiple different frameworks and evidence-based considerations, overcoming the limitations of individual approaches and techniques.

It is fundamentally an inquiry-based learning system optimised for non-externally facilitated, self-sustainable learning, with a reduced initial requirement for intrinsic motivation. Each technique is cognitive load optimised and scaled to the aptitude of the student. Techniques are pace-layered throughout the course in a blended learning environment with daily to weekly experiential learning cycles designed into the structure and activities.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based Learning schematic
Correct development of student-led inquiry-based learning skills allows the naturally tangential and recursive nature of learning to be embraced without restraint, increasing relevancy of learning and volume of meaningful connections.

Our study systems are fundamentally built on an inquiry-based learning approach. The evidence on inquiry-based learning is often more focused on early education and teacher facilitation, noting that there are potential limitations secondary to intrinsic learner motivation or highly dependent on the facilitator.

We have not only found that inquiry-based learning approaches are highly effective for learners at secondary and tertiary stages of education, but that self-facilitation techniques produce more consistent results, with reduced facilitator-dependency. This improves learner metacognition as well as intrinsic motivation, though not to the extent and rapidity necessary for self-sustainable learner development. These limitations in intrinsic motivation development are offset by pace-layering andĀ cognitive load optimisation.

As the application of self-facilitated inquiry-based learning could be considered a threshold concept, by those who follow this ontological principle, pace-layering has been pivotal to reduce permutations due to erroneous or unintended sign-signifier relationships.

Cognitive Load Optimisation

Cognitive load optimisation
Reduction of extraneous cognitive load and tolerable increase of intrinsic cognitive load in the encoding and retrieval process allows increased first-pass retention, as well as more rapid plataeu of forgetting curves on subsequent reviews.

Both the techniques in our system, as well as the progression of skills development and course structure are optimised for gradually increasing intrinsic cognitive load with minimal extraneous load. This is especially fine-tuned for note-taking techniques, active reading, active listening and revision techniques.

The balance between tolerable total cognitive load and meaningful intrinsic load has been difficult to find, especially with the variation between different students of different levels. As such, most of our techniques in the early stages of the course opt for a low to moderate intrinsic cognitive load while keeping germane and extraneous load as low as feasibly possible. This allows the learner to internally calibrate their sense of intrinsic cognitive load and increase tolerance to the discomfort inherent with creating new competency.

In the middle stages of the course, intrinsic cognitive load, and therefore technique efficacy, is increased, while giving time and tasks for higher levels of more automatic cognitive habits to be consolidated, thereby reducing unnecessary germane and extraneous load.

Beyond the immediate benefit of higher intrinsic cognitive load, this careful progression of cognitive load “balancing” increases learner metacognition, increases tolerability of higher cognitive load (especially for students coming from a baseline of passive learning) as well as improving the chances of self-facilitation of inquiry-based learning processes.


Pace layering diagram
Balancing techniques of short and long lead-time before perceivable impact allows simultaneous development of fundamental skills, as well as immediate fulfillment of expectations and positive feedback cycling.

Some techniques can be developed quickly with immediate and perceptible benefits. Other techniques require more foundational skills or attributes development with benefits only perceptible in the intermediate to advanced stages of competency. The latter is often found in techniques that demand higher levels of cognitive load, either due to stricter pathways of inquiry, or greater deviation from existing cognitive habits. In many cases, the techniques with a greater lead-time for benefit have a greater relative degree of benefit as well, compared to techniques of short-lead time and “instant gratification”.

To capitalise on both, foundational skills are developed in a gradual and progressive way throughout the course, simultaneous to techniques of short lead-time. In most cases, shorter lead-time techniques have been integrated with foundational skills development to allow concurrent development of these skills without the need for a separate “foundation-only” technique.

In doing so, we are able to provide the short-term gratification and trigger a positive feedback cycle from techniques with a shallow learning curve, while simultaneously lowering the barrier and difficulty for transitioning into more efficient (but cognitively more challenging) techniques.

Due to a lack of best-practice guidelines in the wider literature, we evaluate and optimise this balance regularly, based on student feedback and other observational data on student behaviour.

Experiential Cycle Integrated

Kolb's experiential learning cycle
While evidence suggests against Kolb's learner types framework, his experiential learning cycle is an ideal framework for improving learner metacognition, empowering self-driven skills development and consolidating new skills.

As per the best-practice guidelines for skills development, all of our teachings (workshops, courses or bootcamps) are designed around Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, aiming to increase their competence, as per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Competency.

Techniques aim to always be immediately relevant and applicable (to an acceptable degree of accuracy) with at least a moderate ceiling of mastery (reaching conscious competency within approximately 1 to 4 weeks).

Each lesson starts from the process of reflection, ending with abstraction and a guide for experimentation. The student is then tasked to experiment and reflect on their own experimentation and undergo multiple cycles of abstraction and re-experimentation, guided by feedback from our team or peers in the community. The natural consequence of this structure is a blended learning environment spanning within school, self-study outside of school, online through peer engagement and formally through our courses or workshops.

This is crucial for building self-sufficiency, but also significantly improves the psychological capital of the learning process, both through the increased community engagement, as well as the more measured and intentional improvement with each successive experiential cycle. This also contributes to improving intrinsic motivation.

Dunning-Kruger Adjusted

Dunning Kruger Graph
The illusion of fluency and illusion of explanatory depth are arguably two of the greatest limiting perspectives for a student's metacognitive and skills development. This can be substantially mitigated through following best-practice guidelines from current cognitive science research.

One of the greatest challenges to teaching study skills is the preconception held by the majority of students, especially those that are high-achieving, that they “already know” everything, despite an exceedingly low level of actual training, knowledge or even personal experience in the field.

We have found that this has a negatively synergistic effect with neuroticism and loss aversion mentality in students who are primarily outcome-focused and have fixed mindsets. As expected, and in agreement with the wider research on Dunning-Kruger effects, this tends to be more pronounced in students who are typically higher achievers and more intelligent at the secondary school level.

To overcome this, we follow generally accepted recommendations by directly teaching about Dunning-Kruger, as well as gradual exposure and activities to increase self-awareness, calibrate confidence, and providing objective diagnostic tests which are tested against a gold standard of individual expert assessment.

This continues to be a major variable that influences student outcomes. Therefore, we regularly refine our courses and teaching based on new observations or research.

Complements Existing School Workload

Complementary to schools
Techniques and approaches are taught in a way by which students can replace existing techniques without disruption or added pressure to existing school work.

In our earliest experience working alongside schools, it was immediately obvious that any program or system that competed against schools, school subjects, or school time was doomed to fail. Therefore, all of our techniques, systems and even course progress timelines are optimised to be used concurrently with school subjects.

Students are able to learn techniques and apply them in substitute for other, less effective techniques, or seamlessly integrate them into existing studying systems to minimise disruption.

Techniques that would significantly disrupt the student’s system (typically those requiring higher than normal cognitive load), are introduced only when the efficiency gains from prior techniques is estimated to offset the training time while building competency for the new techniques. This however, is a progression of positive expectency as more high-efficiency techniques are introduced while lower-efficiency techniques are replaced.

The result, with guidance, is invariably a much more efficient and effective system for studying, once the student has reached a level of unconscious competency for the majority of the techniques.

Spaced and Interleaved

The concepts of spacing and interleaving are so well established that no introduction is needed to it's importance or utility. However, students often struggle to facilitate their own interleaving effectively, especially when combined with other techniques.

Adequate spacing and frequent interleaving are well studied and widely accepted principles for both effective teaching and learning. Not only does it have a low learning curve, but it is also an easy way to initiate the building of student metacognition.

However, as any experienced teacher or educational theorist will know, students often struggle with facilitating interleaving in conjunction with spacing. This is true across most subjects, even at the highest levels of academic achievement. This external-facilitation dependency is a rate-limiting step and a sign of only partial metacognition.

Furthermore, students often understand interleaving in fixed or limited views and struggle to combine aspects of spacing or interleaving with other techniques that are either not inherently designed for use with spacing or interleaving, or where the synergies are not obvious.

Our course not only teaches these principles directly and helps students develop the skills to self-directed spacing scheduling and correct interleaving techniques, but it also features spacing and interleaving in itself. This improves student engagement and retention of the course material, leveraging off tech tools to ease the transition into self-directed skills development; a large barrier often seen in online courses, especially for younger students.

Rapid Cycling Encoding and Retrieval

It is well known that retrieval practice is an essential aspect of learning, counter to the common misconception that encoding is the dominant force of learning. Unfortunately, students struggle both cognitive and emotionally with high volume retrieval with de-prioritised encoding. On the other hand, cognitive load optimised, inquiry-based encoding techniques can not only increase retention but also allow for easier and more frequent retrieval.

To reduce the level of forgetting and build learner fluency with frequent retrieval practice, we teach students to retrieve often, at a frequency normally not found in conventional studying.

We call thisĀ micro-retrieval where we encourage student retrieval at every possible opportunity. The benefit of micro-retrieval is that it increases intrinsic cognitive load during studying, enhancing the level of active learning, as well as building retrieval habits with easy, very doable steps. This further improves intrinsic motivation as a positive feedback cycle is established from the immediate and “tangible” rewards of early retrieval.

The techniques we teach for encoding information are also highly-optimised for future interleaving and retrieval, pushing students away from over-investment in passive encoding methods with a high level of forgetting.

The result of our combination of relationship-prioritised constantly interleaving encoding and rapid iterations of micro-retrieval is a method of studying that cycles through encoding and retrieval dozens of times in a single studying session, producing an effective encoding/retrieval hybrid that boosts first-pass retention significantly. Our preliminary results show up to 86% less forgetting after 1 week compared to traditional Ebbinghaus forgetting curves.

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