Campus - 29.01.2024 - 14:26 

HSG spin-off Brian focuses on gamification in learning

HSG students can use the Brian app as a learning tool in more and more courses. It enriches learning with playful and competitive elements. At the same time, it uses AI to create lessons with interactive quizzes and learning materials for teachers. The app was launched by the HSG spin-off Brian AG, whose founder himself struggled with his learning experiences for a long time.

Ralph Forsbach has two Master's degrees - one from HSG and one from the Haute École de Commerce in Paris. He also completed an entrepreneurship semester at the University of California. "I was a pretty bad student up to and including secondary school," says the 32-year-old. "I didn't see any point in learning, I always just got by." Today, Forsbach is co-founder of the HSG spin-off Brian AG, which was founded in 2021. It launched the Brian app, which uses artificial intelligence to design lessons and lets students learn in a playful way on their smartphones. 

From weak student to learning app founder - how did it come about? "When I started my studies at HSG, I often studied with my flatmate. This learning, which was based a lot on exchange, appealed to me." He also liked the competitive elements of the HSG degree programme. Forsbach has integrated both aspects into Brian: The centrepiece of the app is a quiz for students in which they can continuously answer questions about their course. 

"However, the app doesn't just enquire about learning progress, but also provides background information on individual topics and asks questions. This interactivity ensures that knowledge is more firmly anchored than pure memorisation," says Forsbach. The results of the learning quiz are displayed in the app in an anonymised ranking list. This adds a playful element to learning. App users can also exchange information on individual topics from shared courses in forums.

For primary school pupils and students

Brian is also a tutor for teachers. They can upload their course materials to the app and enter a brief description of the planned lesson. On this basis, the app creates an entire course environment with questions, exercises, explanatory texts and forums. Teachers can also give the AI instructions on how complex the texts it creates for the lessons should be - so the app can be used from primary school level upwards. 

Several hundred primary school pupils are already working with the app, but the main focus is on universities: around 8,000 students at eight universities in the DACH region are currently using Brian as a learning aid.

At HSG, around 40 courses used the app in the autumn semester of 2023. HSG students answer around 10 million quiz questions in the app every year and all lecturers at the University of St.Gallen can use Brian free of charge.

Study shows positive effect of Brian

The idea for the app originated at the HSG's Teaching Innovation Lab (TIL) in 2019. "We realised that students often don't know how to learn and have little overview of their learning progress," says Samuel Heer, Teaching Specialist at the TIL. "The app should provide students with the best possible support in their learning, for example by providing structure and setting clear goals. It was also important to us that it enables mobile learning. Students can also take short learning breaks wherever they are," says Heer. Of course, it could be criticised that a smartphone as a learning platform offers too many other distractions. "The smartphone is the technology that the student generation in particular uses a lot. We wanted to address this user behaviour." 

However, Heer also emphasises that Brian is a supplement to more traditional learning methods. "We still need traditional self-study as well as dialogue in courses with teachers and other students." Together with other HSG researchers, Heer has analysed the effect of using Brian on examination performance in a previously unpublished study. "Brian leads to students studying earlier and more regularly overall. Using the app sensibly can make a difference of up to a whole grade on an exam," says Heer about the results.

More equal opportunities thanks to AI

Thanks to ongoing developments in AI technology, Brian still has a lot of potential for further development, says Forsbach. "We have just introduced a chatbot in the app that is based on the AI software GPT4. Students at selected universities will then have individual learning companions with these bots. For example, they will recognise learning gaps based on the course materials and then recommend measures."

To ensure data security, the data from ChatGPT usage in Brian is not used to train the AI behind it, but is deletedn once the conversation with the chatbot has ended. To integrate the bot into the app, Brian AG is working closely with HSG economics professor Sabine Seufert and HSG AI expert Siegfried Handschuh.

Because he himself had a difficult start to his school career, Forsbach also wants to use Brian to help pupils and students make the most efficient use of their time outside lessons. "The higher the school level, the more important learning outside of school is. Brian gives learners quick and personal feedback on their learning behaviour, reducing idle time and boosting motivation." Forsbach wants to conquer the DACH region with Brian in the medium term and then also gain a foothold in the USA. He is also guided by a larger vision: "We want to empower teachers so that in future all learners will have the conditions to learn better than the richest learners today."

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