Forget notecards, Cerego wants to help you memorize with new online learning tool

Whether you’re studying up on U.S. History, wine tasting terminology or how to fly a Cessna, Cerego believes its new online tool is the most effective way to remember what you learn.

Since 2000, company has been based in Tokyo and through its social learning service iKnow has focused on helping Japanese speakers learn English. But on Tuesday, the company announced that it has opened a stateside office in Palo Alto, Calif. and is launching a new product to help people learn and remember any kind of content.  The web-based tool is currently in private beta (the first 500 GigaOM readers can click here for an invite) but is expected to be launched more widely in early 2013.

While several new startups and learning platforms provide formal students and lifelong learners the opportunity to take courses on all kinds of subjects, Andrew Smith Lewis, Cerego’s cofounder and executive chairman, says his product applies learning principles drawn from neuroscience and cognitive science.

As students progress through courses on the site, Cerego takes a “spaced rehearsal” approach, which supports a learning technique that involves the repetition of content over increasing periods of time, to calculate the optimal moments to review content. The algorithms consider what students got right and wrong, as well as their familiarity with related content and, potentially, what others on the platform found challenging or easy to determine how likely they are to forget specific content items and when that content should be reviewed.

“They’re like interactive notecards that are smart and know exactly what you know and don’t know,” said Lewis.

The site has been seeded with about 50 courses on topics from exotic animals to statistics to American cuts of beef, but the goal is for users – whether they’re students, professors, casual learners, publishers or even corporations – to add to the site with their own content. College students could use it to study for a test on anatomy or adult learners – including those taking courses on online learning sites like Coursera and Udacity – could use it to review programming terminology, Lewis said.

The company said the basic service will remain free, but it plans to charge for premium content from validated publishers as well as premium services, such as advanced analytics or functions for power users.

To date, Lewis said Cerego has raised $28 million from private investors and claims companies including SoftBank and Yahoo Japan as clients. It’s also attracted an interesting group of advisors, including Scott McNealy, co-founder Sun Microsystems and Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab. Since launching, 1.1 million Japanese users have logged 3.7 hours on the platform, and Cerego says all of that data has been used t refine the algorithms for its latest product.