New apps from MIT fill your waiting moments with learning opportunities

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has come up with a way to fill those few seconds of waiting everyone experiences while their social media apps load, or their phone connects to WiFi. It may not seem like much, but filling these gaps can can a significant aggregate effect, given how much time we spend on our devices. To fill this time with productive learning opportunities, CSAIL came up with WaitSuite, a collection of apps that work on desktop or mobile, offering up educational micro-moments where you can brush up on second language vocab skills and more in the time between everything else.

MIT’s work here isn’t unprecedented: They cite apps like Duolingo that already offer up short-term learning opportunities tied to devices like smartphones that we have with us everywhere. WaitSuite targets even more fleeting moments, like while you’re waiting for your phone or computer to connect to a WiFi network, or while you’re waiting for someone to text you back. WaitSuite also covers the time spent fetching emails, waiting for an elevator to arrive, and waiting for various kinds of content to load on your phone.

The system is simple, and basically presents you with a vocabulary word to translate, with a simple text entry field. This could be repurposed to learn specific lingo for various fields of study and work, or for SAT prep and more, but language learning was an easy target because of the flash card-like experience.

The system also automatically detects if your device is looking for a WiFi connection, or if your phone can detect Bluetooth iBeacons that indicate you’re near an elevator, and the automatic nature is key – users don’t have to think about what app to open, it’s presented instantly, letting them direct their full attention to that learning task for the few seconds they typically have to wait during these activities.

A side benefit of the apps was that users still paid attention to their original task: When they fill these moments with things like browsing social media, they tend to get lost in that secondary activity, but with these quick learning moments, they return their attention more fully to what they were doing in the first place.

It’s a very cool feature, and one that would make a lot more sense as an OS-level option. It’s hard to see how this would work more broadly in a consumer-focused application, but it’s still very interesting research that could definitely make for some cool products down the line. Check it out for yourself here if you’re interested.