Five Minutes with…Ed Cooke

Ed Cooke keynote speaker
Ed Cooke keynote speaker

We recently sat down with Ed Cooke, Grand Master Of Memory and Co-founder of Memrise, the revolutionary online learning app. He told us how memory techniques enhance your creativity and motivation, talked about his entrepreneurial journey and explained why occasionally he still forgets things.

You’re a Grand Master of Memory, which means you can remember all kinds of amazing things. But what’s the point in memory techniques? Why should people even bother?
*Sighs* Good question!

Memory techniques are techniques of mind and imagination. They’re ways of controlling how you pay attention, perceive and remember the world. So to ask why bother is to ask why we should bother trying out new ways of looking at the world.

A second reason is that memory is often thought to be this kind of grey database-style project, lacking in creativity and humanity. But in fact, memory is the creative core of everything we do – of our language, perception, thinking – and so these techniques are an incredibly enjoyable way to use one’s mind, and would be worth doing even if they had no practical outlet.

Are smartphones and the internet ruining our memories?
Undoubtedly there can be a tendency to rely on these external sources as a kind of scaffold for memory.

But with Memrise we’re working hard to create learning experiences that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the internet. For example, we’re using personalised, adaptive and scientifically-informed technology that’s capable of reminding, testing and assimilating information into a person’s mind with more efficiency and subtlety than would be possible even with a personal tutor.

Secondly, because of the internet we’re able to distribute that experience at zero marginal cost to 25 million people so far.

And thirdly, the internet makes it possible to have these infinite databases of content. So, for instance, we have hundreds of thousands of short videos of native language speakers talking in context. So when you’re learning the phrase “it’s raining cats and dogs”, we can pluck three different videos of people in rainstorms saying in various English accents, “it’s raining cats and dogs”. This level of highly specific and rich content isn’t possible without the internet.

If Memrise had a manifesto, what would it be?
That learning is both cognitive and emotional. I think the vast majority of learning tech created over the past 20 years is a bit po-faced and/or saccharine. There’s not much anarchy – not much life and emotion and fun. With Memrise we’re trying to create experiences that rejoice in the madness of learning, as well as making it an efficient process.

What’s next for Memrise?
We’ve been putting together an amazing cross-disciplinary research team – linguists, computer scientists, developmental psychologists, cognitive scientists, people who speak 15 different languages – to create almost like an applied research institute within the company.

The aim is to get it to the point that within fifty hours of using Memrise you can have pretty good chat in any language: have a good conversation in a train or bar, make your way around town, that kind of thing. We think that would be a game-changing quality of learning, because it would make learning a language as simple and natural as ordering food online.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever forgotten?
I like to make a distinction between “forgetting” and “not remembering” something. I’m a serial not-remember-er, though I don’t forget anything once I’ve learnt it. For instance, I very often don’t remember my keys, or a cake I put in the oven. And literally, for the last ten days in a row, at the point when I enter the bathroom in the morning I think, “Oh, I need to get some shaving cream”. That thought is triggered instantaneously when I walk in. But as soon as I walk out it show no signs of re-entering my consciousness until the next morning!

To book Ed Cooke as a keynote speaker for your conference, contact Leo at or on 0044 (0) 7833 727090.