14 Learning Apps That Keep Your Mind Sharp

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By Sasha Rezvina

Studies have shown that the average person only retains about 10% of what they read. In the Information Age, we have so many resources at our fingertips that our brain doesn’t get the practice it needs to stay sharp and retain information.

A few years ago, UCLA Professor of Psychiatry Gary Small found that spending a lot of time online actually rewires our brain. Because of all the skimming that we are forced to do, we replace deep, careful learning with hurried, shallow thinking.


But all hope isn’t lost. Instead of using technology as a crutch to free us of having to do calculations or remember information, we can use it to improve our thinking and our capacity for learning. There are tons of activities and exercise that can be found in mobile apps that actually improve our cognitive functions.

Here are some iOS and Android learning apps that will get those brain muscles flexing.

Improve your memory

Think about the last time you memorized a phone number. Or the last time you had to remember the first and last name of someone you met last week. As we’ve developed more and more tools to aid learning, we’ve had to rely less and less on our memory.

But memory is paramount for learning and retaining information. Here are some learning apps that will improve your memory, so the stuff you learn will stick better.


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Available on: iOS and Android

Also available as a web-based application that you can access through your desktop, Luminosity uses exercises to improve attention to detail, reaction time, multi-tasking skills, and pattern recognition skills. The learning app also tracks your progress so you can see your improvement over time.

A University of Michigan study put Luminosity to the test and found that its techniques actually work. Test subjects who used the app had significantly improved test scores when it came to dual-attention and memory.


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Available on: iOS

Cognito has similar objectives to Luminosity in a much more gamified experience. This neuroscientist-designed app features a secret agent narrative in which you are expected to work through games that focus on five core functions: memory, focus, speed, adaptability, and reasoning. As a fun bonus, the learning app also includes personality assessments.

While boasting the same benefits as Luminosity, its presentation—in the form of a single-narrative game— will likely keep your attention better. Studies have shown that gamification significantly improves engagement.


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Available on: iOS

Like Luminosity and Cognito, Briangle also promises an increase in cognitive functions, but the learning app is more focused on logic problems and riddles. Taking a more traditional approach, they claim to have the largest collection of brain teasers in the world.

According to a University of Iowa study, riddles and brain teasers have a preventative benefits. They slow the natural decline of cognitive function, such as memory, that comes along with aging.


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Available on: iOS

Essentially a virtual sketchbook, Paper lets you take notes or make a small sketch. Taking a step back from digital productivity apps, Paper looks to digitize more conventional note-taking techniques.

Not only do sketches help you clarify ideas, but drawing is also known to improve retention. So take advantage of the opportunity to draw sketches to serve as memory-joggers.

Be more focused

A survey of 2,000 people revealed that because of the distractions of the modern age, the average person’s attention span has dropped from twelve seconds to just eight seconds—less than the attention span of goldfish.

Here are some apps that will help you get focused and filter out those distractions.


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Available on: Android

This is an app that limits access to your phone. It works on the simple premise that it blocks your access to some or all of your phone applications to make sure that you stay focused on what you’re learning or doing. If you encounter a similar problem on your computer, Clearlock can do the same for your desktop.

According to a Journal of Psychology study, hearing your phone buzz is enough to keep you distracted you even if you never check it. If you prevent this sort of intrusion, you can keep focused on what you’re doing and fall into your flow.


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Available on: iOS

If you’re curious to read all the articles that you come across but there are simply not enough hours in the day, try out this speed-reading learning app. Through guided reading, it helps you read through content much faster without any loss in retention.

This way you can get retain the relevant bits of the stuff you read without getting distracted by the fluff in articles.

Learn something new

In the ever-evolving tech industry, you have to always be learning to keep up with the times. Not only will a focus on learning and self-improvement give you an edge in the job market but having a variety of interests will make you more likable as a peer and leader.

Learning is a skill that needs practice. And the only way to keep up with it is to turn it into a habit. Here are some learning apps that help you turn learning into a part of your routine.


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Available on: iOS and Android

Duolingo is a totally free language learning app, now offering classes in 15 different languages. Available on pretty much every platform (they have a web-based version as well), the program teaches speaking, reading, listening and writing through interactive games.

Besides the obvious boost to your resume, science has shown that learning a new language actually changes the way your brain works. You’ll become more decisive, better at multi-tasking, and score better on standardized tests.


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Available on: iOS and Android

If you miss college, when you could take any class you wanted, this is the learning app for you. Coursera gives users access to over 1,000 university classes on subjects from photography to biology to music history.

There’s no better way to get better at learning than practicing. Not to mention, non-stop learning can lead to a greater satisfaction from life.


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Available on: iOS

This learning app teaches you all the math tricks and hacks in the game. It teaches you how to think mathematically and how to break down complex problems into more manageable ones.

While these fool-proof methods are designed for students who want to improve standardized testing scores, everyone can use some sharpening of their math skills. In fact, a University of Missouri study showed a clear correlation between math deficiency and lower wages in adults.

Think faster

You might think that playing games on your phone is just a mindless way to pass the time, but studies have shown that certain games actually help you think faster and more clearly.

Here are some apps that will make you better at learning, even in your down time.


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Available on: iOS and Android

The Chess.com mobile app lets you play this age-old game against friends, strangers, or the computer. It also has an immense library of video tutorials, offering personalized lessons and feedback based on your own chess performance.

Not only is this one of the games that helps prevent Alzheimer’s, but it actually helps your brain grow! It increases the amount of dendrites, which makes neural communication in the brain faster.

NY Times Crossword

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Available on: iOS

This app—built by The New York Times itself— features tons of crossword puzzles, tips and tricks for solving them, and stats for how you’ve done over time.

And they do more for you than just expand your vocabulary. Crossword puzzles increase neuroplasticity, which hones our ability to view things from different perspectives and to better recognize the causes and effects of our own behaviors and emotions.


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Available on: iOS and Android

If you’re sick of the fancy games that pollute your app store, but still want a fun and engaging game, this classic game never gets old.

But don’t be tricked by its seeming simplicity. In an Oxford University study, researchers scanned gamer’s brains to find that Tetris actually thickened the cerebral cortex—the part of the brain that plays a huge part in memory, attention, and awareness.

Get healthy

The connection between physical health and mental capabilities has been noted for centuries, and proven by countless modern studies. For our mind to be in peak condition to think and process information, we have to keep our body healthy and sound.

Here are some apps that help you keep physical health a priority:


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Available on: iOS and Android

Popularized by ABC’s Shark Tank, this is one of the best workout apps around. You can choose from stretching, cardio, or strength and get work out videos based on your own goals.

But what does this have to do with learning? Well, exercise actually increases cognition. Countless studies have proven this correlation, although none have found conclusive evidence to explain it. Most neuroscientists think it has something to do with increasing blood circulation to the brain.

Sleep Cycle 5.0

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Available on: iOS

Rated the #1 paid app in the United States, Sleep Cycle is an alarm clock app that keeps track of your sleeping patterns. It measures your movement and calculates your sleep cycles in order to wake you up at the optimal time.

According to Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Harvey B. Simon, getting good sleep increases your learning and memory capabilities, and makes you more creative. So if you’re having trouble retaining information, you might not be sleeping well.


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