Muzology for Pre-algebra Skills with Dr Lana Israel, Founder/CEO at Muzology

“Music is one of the most powerful memory mediums that we as human beings have at our disposal.”
– Dr. Lana Israel
What if learning math was fun? “Math anxiety” is one of the most common problems among students. On this episode of On Work and Revolution, Debbie speaks with Dr. Lana Israel, Founder and CEO of Muzology, who has brilliantly harnessed both music and science to improve learning. Dr. Lana is a globally recognized learning expert who published her first book on memory at age 13. Muzology aims to reintegrate music as a credible pedagogical tool and revolutionize the way we learn.

Debbie & Dr. Lana dig into:

✓ The innovative evidence-based approach that’s helping millions of kids learn pre-algebra skills using music videos written by hit songwriters
✓ How we can harness the potential of music as a powerful memory medium to facilitate learning
✓ Dr. Lana’s journey from speaker, to researcher, to author, to seasoned executive in the music industry to entrepreneur in the EdTech sector

About our guest Dr. Lana Israel

Dr. Lana Israel wrote her first book at 13 and founded Brain Power for Kids, Inc. while in middle school. For the next decade, she wrote and produced award-winning educational content on learning and memory, lectured and consulted globally, and made numerous international media appearances. Fueling this was her five-year study on Mind Mapping and related memory techniques, which garnered the Grand Award at the International Science and Engineering Fair and resulted in an invitation to the Nobel Prizes. For Dr. Israel’s contributions to global education, including pioneering the educational applications of Mind Mapping, she was named The British Brain Trust’s “Brain of the Year” in 1993.

More recently, Dr. Israel has crafted global entertainment strategies for Fortune 500 companies, worked with global superstars, and consulted extensively in the music industry – spanning artist and writer management, publishing and production, and strategy and data analytics. 

Dr. Israel holds a Doctorate (D.Phil) in Experimental Psychology from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar and conducted post-graduate research on memory. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Dr. Israel’s research on memory has been cited over 800 times.

Integrating her lifelong passions for music, memory, and the mind, Dr. Israel started Muzology, a music-driven EdTech company based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Helpful Links:

Follow Dr. Lana Israel on LinkedIn

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Open for Full Episode Transcript

Debbie Goodman  00:05

Hello, and welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaping up in the world of work and education. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman. And today we have as our guest, Dr Lana Israel, who is CEO of a company called Muzology. Dr Lana Israel is a globally recognized learning expert on memory, amongst other things. She published her first book on memory at age 13. Did I read that right? This launched Lana’s career while a teenager as an international speaker and researcher. She is a Harvard and Oxford educated Rhodes Scholar, whose research on memory has been cited over 800 times. She has been recognized with numerous awards including the Nobel Prize Visit Award. Integrating her lifelong passions for music, memory and the mind, Lana established Muzology, a music driven Edtech company based in Nashville, Tennessee, good location for a music company. Created by a team of PhDs and learning experts Muzology offers an evidence based approach to learning pre algebra skills using an iterative series of music videos, which happen to be written by hit songwriters. In a nutshell, Muzology offers a clear, relevant and fun way for students to learn math anywhere that they have an internet connection. And today, we’re going to talk to Lana about Muzology and the power of music to deal with the massive learning losses since COVID, particularly in math. If you’re a parent, you’ll probably know all about this. So welcome, Lana.


Dr Lana Israel  01:47

Thank you. It’s lovely to be with you.


Debbie Goodman  01:51

It sounds like you were a bit of a child prodigy. Share a bit about your early work on memory. I mean, it’s fascinating.


Dr Lana Israel  01:59

Absolutely. So, you know, this all evolved very organically out of my eighth grade science project and I grew up in Miami and the school I went to it was mandatory in middle school that we did science projects every year. And science project time was rapidly approaching, I had no idea what I was going to do my project on my dad, who was a training consultant, and author really interested in applying neuroscience to selling techniques, had this book by a British psychologist named Tony Vizan called Use Both Sides of your Brain or Use Your Head different names in different countries. And he said, I think you’ll find this book interesting and it might give you an idea for your science project. And he left the book on the kitchen table, and I was at 13 not going to touch anything my dad told me was interesting. So it sat there on the kitchen table for weeks until I got desperate enough without a science project topic to read the book. And I was just instantly intrigued. This is the first time I learned of this learning technique called mind mapping, which was a visual spatial way of generating, organizing, documenting information. The thing is, the book was written for adults. And all of the applications were essentially in business and industry. And I’m an eighth grader. So I don’t care about applications and business and industry I care about like, could I use this thing in school to take notes, to write an essay, to study for tests. So I decided to do my eighth grade science project on mind mapping. One to see if it really did work, is all this true they’re saying in this book, and two, could young people, kids, students use this technique. And I wound up using my classmates as guinea pigs. And my next door neighbor was an educational psychologist who came over with a probably a three inch textbook on educational statistics and psychology and I learned how to do T tests and did statistical analysis on the results, which were pretty eye popping, and wound up getting some preliminary evidence that yes, mind mapping does work and can be used in education. And what happened after that was one of my former teachers was at our house working with my younger sister on a project and saw my science project display board. And she was attending a conference in Sydney on education asked my mom, if I would be interested in presenting. And so I said to my mom, wait, does that mean I get to go to Australia? And she said yes. And I said then I’m interested in presenting. So I wrote an abstract sent it to this conference and the rest was history. Everything snowballed from there.


Debbie Goodman  04:31

Wow, interesting confluence. Okay, so first of all my key takeaways from that conversation is my eighth grader has got her science project coming up, I think. I think I’m gonna just find something interesting and leave it on the kitchen counter, and hopefully she’ll discover it, because I don’t think this science project is going much of anywhere right now. But that is such an incredible state of flow to have something that just germinated in one idea and eventually you’re on a stage in Australia presenting on mind mapping for kids and students. Fast forward a few years and you head off to a world in academia, right? Was that the natural progression for you?


Dr Lana Israel  05:10

That’s right. So you know, after Australia, I left Australia with a book publishing deal from an educational publisher. I had written the book as a, quote unquote handout to give out at my talk in Sydney, and wound up on national TV there. And so within days, had a publishing deal, came back to the states, started getting invitations to lecture domestically, then all over the world. I self published the book, with the inventor of mind mapping in the states, had it translated, created more multimedia learning content. So I kind of had this mini career as a teenager, and actually started a company called Brain Power for Kids through which I continued to research, speak about and develop innovative learning techniques and approaches to learning for kids or students. And then, as you said, when I got to college and then graduate school, that’s when I got really fascinated with the theoretical underpinnings of everything I had been doing for the previous four or five years. And so studied cognitive psychology with a focus on memory, a little bit of neuroscience. And I was absolutely on this path to become an academic, become a professor. And I joked that I had an early life crisis in England when I was doing my graduate work was doing a postdoc actually, at the time at Oxford, and decided to leave academia, moved to Manhattan, and go into the music business to pursue another childhood passion of mine, which was music.


Debbie Goodman  06:40

That sounds like a massive detour, and such a different course that it was going to chart for you. So what formed that decision?


Dr Lana Israel  06:50

I had started writing music when I was 10. I was just like, obsessed with music as a child. I dreamt of becoming a songwriter one day, I mean, that was, to me, just my, you know, biggest fantasy was actually doing something in the music business and becoming a songwriter. And I, you know, as I stated, was on this path to become an academic and started to think about this other passion of mine, and really woke up every day pinching myself going, you know, could I do something like this? Could this be real? And I just kind of noted how I felt every morning, waking up thinking about that, like the excitement and the joy. That’s when it just was clear to me, this was something I had to at least try and pursue. Now, don’t mistake, the weekly calls I got from my father asking me if I had lost my insert expletive line, right? Like, what are you doing? I mean, I started out literally working as the assistant to a music producer, not making much money working really long hours. So my parents were certainly confused by that choice. And you know what, to some degree, as clear as it was to me that this was something I had to pursue, was a little confusing to me too. I couldn’t quite, you know, tell you what I was doing and why at the time, but just felt compelled to do it.


Debbie Goodman  08:16

And where did that lead because eventually, there was another detour into entrepreneurial pursuits.


Dr Lana Israel  08:23

So what was really interesting is very early on working in the music business, and I had the good fortune of working for a really talented and creative music producer, who within months of me starting to work with him had a big number one hit and many hits after that. And so, as a result, I found myself squarely in the middle of all things, the music business as a music producer, slash songwriters, really the heartbeat of the business, right, everything really revolves around the song and the production. And so very early on in that process, it’s like a light bulb went off for me when I’m like, wait a second, as a former memory researcher, music is one of the most powerful memory mediums that we as human beings have at our disposal. And when that occurred to me was, I realized that several times a week, we had artists and other writers come into our studio to write a song and when they walked in, in the morning, a song didn’t exist. And hours later, a song existed. And if that song got recorded by an artist and released and played on the radio again, and again and again, and those were the days when radio was still our primary way of consuming music, so now I’ve dated myself, if that happened, weeks later, millions of people would know the words to something that didn’t exist, you know, several weeks prior. So that was pretty amazing. Like as a memory researcher, I’m going wow, that’s pretty fascinating. And then as I started to like, think about it more and unpack it more, what also occurred to me is, this phenomenon is not something that happens at scale with this degree of immediacy. If you hear a song that you haven’t heard for 20, 30 years, boom, all the words come back. That’s mind blowing. If you think about that as a learning effect, that’s pretty mind blowing in the learning space. There are a couple things we look for when we’re evaluating a new type of learning technology. One is, is it replicable? So Ding, ding, ding, ding, millions of people know all the words to this song. It’s replicable. Right? Next is, do we have some sort of systematic understanding for why we’re getting the effect? Well, as I started to look into this, and understood more about the neuroscience of music, we now know that music directly activates brain regions, multiple brain regions that are critical for sustained and successful learning. Now, we might not know exactly how it all works. But we know kind of why it works. And so ding, ding, ding, we have some sort of systematic understanding for why we’re getting the effect. And then like, what’s the size of the effect? Well, this wasn’t a very scientific way of answering that question. But what’s the size of an effect when you can remember something verbatim that you haven’t been exposed to for decades? It’s unbelievable, right, that we don’t see those types of outcomes.


Debbie Goodman  11:07

I mean, it’s the first time that’s actually occurring to me that, of course, I mean, I remember the words to songs that I learned and heard when I was a teenager, not so much the songs I heard recently, but the ones from way back, that recall is extraordinary. And the fact that there’s actually a neuroscience of music, is this scientific pedagogy that exists beyond just your work?


Dr Lana Israel  11:33

This is what’s very interesting. There’s this very fruitful, dynamic area in science on the neuroscience of music and some great great, great minds working in the field, but not necessarily applying it to learning. And so there’s a dearth of evidence, you know. I mean, there’s a dearth of like really rigorous studies starting to look at the effects of music on learning in the very applied sense that, you know, we’re doing this work at Muzology, which is part of what we started to do is we started to do research on this. And we’ve obtained really compelling evidence that this approach to learning works and works more effectively than more traditional approaches to learning which is, you know, a student being taught the same information through someone speaking about it or lecturing. But what’s so amazing, is what you just underscored. You’re like, Oh, now that I think about it, it’s kind of obvious, right? This idea of using music to learn is as old as the sun, I mean, every culture and civilization used music or lyric poetry to pass on information, even pre literacy. That’s how religious information and rituals and information gets passed on from generation to generation. And somehow, despite music’s unbelievable power and efficacy as a learning medium. Today, music is experienced primarily as a consumptive entertainment medium, outside of early childhood learning where music is saturated as a learning technique, as a learning tool. But then, after kindergarten, first grade, bye bye, Miss American Pie, the music dies, right? We stopped. We stopped using music as a credible pedagogical tool. And so I started Muzology to change that, because there’s no reason why we should stop using music to learn.


Debbie Goodman  11:33

So now the idea is germinated. And now you are about to step into the world of entrepreneurship. Is Muzology your first entrepreneurial venture?


Dr Lana Israel  12:41

Well, so I started a company when I was 13, as I mentioned, you know, that wasn’t launching a product. That was a business around research I did and speaking and lecturing. So I had a little taste of entrepreneurship from that. And over the years, I was always interested in entrepreneurship and starting a company and had all sorts of ideas of things I wanted to develop. And it actually was about a good decade plus, between kind of the genesis of this idea of using music to learn outside of early childhood learning and actually starting Muzology. And in that period of time, I ran a music technology company, I ran creative for a music based entertainment branding company. I started an insights and analytics practice with a focus on the music industry and one of my first clients was Garth Brooks’s manager, and Garth. And I started to talk to Garth’s manager about this idea of hey, what if we enlist the help of our network of friends and colleagues who are hit songwriters and music producers? Who are creating contemporary music that kids want to listen to electively? And instead of writing songs about Ooh, baby, baby, I love you, I love you, you know, what if we swap out the lyrical content to actually teach kids information of meaning and value that they struggle with in school. And you know, what leapt off the page as a place to start was math, which is typically a child’s most most challenging subject. And so the idea was not to write songs that sound like babies music or kitty music, but actually to write songs that sound like compelling modern pop songs that kids would like and respond to. But to teach the math that way, and the song is a component of what we do. It’s actually the final product is a music video. And the video component is exceptionally important as well, because we use graphics to help reinforce the information being presented in the song. And we also have our talent, dance into choreography, that where possible, helps reinforce the information. So we have this very powerful multi modality experience, where at the same time, a learner is hearing, seeing, and actually kinesthetically can be doing something that locks in the information, in different ways.


Debbie Goodman  16:07

I mean, this just sounds amazing and extraordinary and obvious in certain respects. For all the reasons were already we’ve already discussed. But I just think about all the families whose kids struggle with learning in conventional ways. And I think as we’re starting to recognize there are so many different learning modalities that are just not promoted in our schools these days. Where Muzology sounds like the answer, I mean, anybody listening to this who goes, Oh, my word where can I access this? So let’s just talk about Okay, so first of all, just to backtrack, you clearly have a DNA of entrepreneurship, because you’ve kind of been doing this ever since you were a teenager. This is not your first rodeo, but nevertheless, actually being able to launch a product and then get it out to the right market. And consumer is a big deal in a very competitive market. I mean, the education technology sector is just, you know, the proliferation of products, particularly in the last few years since COVID has just, there’s just an abundance in many respects, which is wonderful, but very competitive. So how are you getting your amazing product to the right market?


Dr Lana Israel  17:15

I would underscore what you just said, Edtech is a really tough market, really, really tough market. We were very fortunate that we got connected with an educational charity and not for profit in Knoxville, Tennessee. So we’re based in Nashville. But we got connected with this great organization called the great schools partnership in Knoxville, whose whole mission was to support any type of evidence based methodology or program or platform that can move the needle for learning outcomes for students in Knoxville. So it’s an amazing organization. And so they actually helped fund our first small scale RCT randomized control trial that we conducted with research professor at University of Tennessee Knoxville, and we obtained really amazing results indicating that Muzology worked. And on the basis of that they actually helped fund the development of the first iteration of our platform that we then tested that summer with 300 Summer School students district wide in Knoxville, and there again, obtained these like unbelievably eye popping statistically significant results indicating that Muzology worked. It wasn’t only the academic outcomes that were so notable as two other things. One was how quickly those results happened. And I mean, we had teachers going into that summer school program going like, we don’t expect these kids to pass, which, you know, is maybe not the right point of view. But it was, from their perspective, like a practical point of view, right? Like, you don’t expect these kids to pass. And they were astonished that at the end of the summer, these kids were, like passing the district diagnostic, which is not supposed to happen for kids who failed math, in a four week format. A great documentary if any one out there is interested. And then the other thing that happened was we had kids in the beginning of the summer. And what I’m going to say is is very upsetting and poignant. Is that we had kids come in the beginning of the summer making statements like I am dumb. I hate math. I don’t want to go to college. I don’t care about algebra in high school, like checked out. But the worst of all those statements is a child who has internalized I am dumb, right? Because if that’s what you believe, like this self fulfilling prophecy you’re on, there’s there’s no way of breaking that cycle, right? So you think you’re dumb, you don’t pay attention. You don’t study, you get bad grades that confirms your belief that you’re dumb. And so these kids were stuck in this negative self reinforcing feedback loop. Four weeks later, after using Muzology, we had these kids saying, I love math. It’s now my favorite subject. I can’t wait to take algebra. I want to go to college and become an engineer. And my favorite all time quote ever from a student about Muzology: “Muzology has not just given me confidence in my ability to do math, it’s given me confidence in my ability to do anything”.


Debbie Goodman  20:14

So you get this first kind of case study at some level of scale that it works. And it has profound impact, even in potential loss cases. And where to from there.


Dr Lana Israel  20:27

So what started happening from there was word of mouth, where you have this great data, unbelievable testimonials from students and teachers. And so a lot of what happened for us at that point was this, again, very organically, like spreading word of mouth. We started to go to educational conferences, we stood out at these conferences, because the platform and the approach is so unique and different and fun. And, you know, that’s the other side of this is learning should be fun. Like when we’re babies, learning is interesting. When we’re young kids, learning is exciting and interesting. And, you know, and the kind of the fun and the excitement and the curiosity somehow gets, you know, quote, unquote, programmed out of us. And, you know, we kind of sit in rows and raise our hands and the excitement and fun of learning tends to disappear, where, you know, the majority of students probably wouldn’t tell you that they find math fun. There are some students who will tell you that, but most of them would probably would not!


Debbie Goodman  21:36

Not the descriptor that my teenager is using right now, that’s for sure. Yeah.


Dr Lana Israel  21:40

You know, quotes from kids. You’re learning and you’re having fun. It’s pretty cool.


Debbie Goodman  21:47

So with word of mouth is one thing, but the what’s the next step for you? And as we unfortunately have to start drawing to a close, what’s shaking up for you in 2023? Where are the big challenges? And where are the big opportunities?


Dr Lana Israel  22:01

Well for us, 2023 is the year we go direct to consumer. So that’s been a strategic decision we’ve made as a company, is really empowering parents to be able to get a subscription, directly, use Muzology with their kids, immediately, directly, whether or not a school district or a school or district decides to purchase access to the platform. And that’s because of exactly what you said, it’s a very competitive marketplace, there are a lot of entrenched huge pre existing players and companies that have existing relationships with schools and districts. And, you know, despite how effective a product might be, without a massive sales team, and lots of capital put into building sales, it’s sometimes hard to hit a certain level of traction, when you look at selling b2b or institutionally, where as you know, on the direct to consumer front, while there certainly are challenges there in terms of breaking through the clutter, and reaching a parent, a parent is 100% in power to go, oh, this sounds interesting and cool, my child could benefit from it, I’m gonna buy it. And there’s no red tape, and there’re not hoops to jump through. And there’re not layers and layers and layers of decision makers. And so that’s where we’re putting a lot of effort now is building the direct to consumer side of the company. 


Debbie Goodman  23:20

Well, that sounds like an amazing strategy. I hope that anybody who’s listening, please can you take a look at the show notes, we can put them on as details and Muzology’s details in the show notes so that anybody can find them. And I think for parents in this day and age, where there’s a gazillion products out there, but finding something that can really suit a kid that’s really struggling at this point, particularly with math. This just sounds like a win win for everybody to get good at math and have fun in the in the process. That sounds amazing. So and to not have to listen to nursery rhymes and to have like, some great music to boot. This is a win for the whole family. Lana, this has been an amazing conversation. We could certainly spend a lot more time but I have to say goodbye now. And thank you and good luck for an amazing 2023 for you and Muzology.


Dr Lana Israel  24:14

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.


Debbie Goodman  24:20

Thanks for hanging around all the way to the end. It would mean the world if you would rate and review On Working and Revolution on your favorite listening app. It helps people know that the show is worth listening to. And so I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.


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