So here is my solution... the MyBrain App/Social Network. It is intended to be useful and attractive for learners of all ages and levels of experience. I am currently looking for someone to help me bring this idea into reality, so if you feel you have what it takes, then just reply to this posting.
When I was first conceiving the MyBrain app several years ago, I heard about a blog one man wrote where he cataloged every new word his daughter spoke. To do so, he set up sensored video cameras all around his house that turned on whenever there was activity in each room. After many months of cataloging, he essentially had a learning history of his daughter's first years of life. Pretty neat, eh?
The MyBrain app would do something similar in that words would be counted and tallied as they roll across a user's screen at a reading pace. As the number of encounters to a certain word rises, the "brain" on the user's screen would get bigger.
(As far as the app using speech recognition to hear the user's voice as they read aloud, that is great but not completely necessary. People prefer to read silently in their head and watch videos silently as well. Therefore, I assume text recognition technology could be a solution to tallying words as they roll across a user's screen at a certain pace. There may be other ways, but I am not an expert on the technology side.)
Words would be considered "mastered" after a certain number of exposures and from a certain number of sources (visualized by the "brain" turning from a gray-scale to color image). Reading comprehension research suggests that it takes approximately 15--25 exposures to a new word (encountered in different contexts) before that new word is fluently understood. The number of exposures required can be bigger or smaller depending on how experienced the reader is.
By keeping a lifelong record of one's reading history (or learning history), the MyBrain app would incentivize readers to read even more on their digital devices. It also would connect lifelong learners into a social network where they can all monitor each other's progress, be ranked to spur competitive learning, and perhaps even connect with each other to collaborate on projects. Imagine an app where you could type in any word and get a ranking of everyone in your friend network from most knowledgeable to least (or simply most word encounters to least).
An app that keeps tally of word encounters would also be able to tell which words are in a learner's "zone of proximal development," and therefore, could make reading suggestions that include those words. With this ability, the MyBrain app could harness the intrigue of the internet (which is where people want to use their reading skills) to maximize learning potential.
To track even more online learning, however, it could also eventually include technology that keeps tally of words one encounters while watching videos on a digital device. So with the MyBrain app, every time learners read an online article, e-book, or watch a video, they would receive visible learning credit as a result of the app tallying word encounters and sources. Plus, the app could also make reading and viewing suggestions.
Some will read this and think that just because a word appears on the screen that does not mean a user has actually read it. However, if a certain word rolls across a user's screen 100 times, it is likely that at least half or a quarter of those times the reader was actually reading it and gaining a better sense each time of what the word means based on the different contexts. I don't know exactly at what point a word could be assumed to be "mastered" but perhaps 100 encounters from 10 sources would be close to sufficient. (Certainly it would be less than 1000 encounters from 100 sources).
Once an agreement could be made on this threshold, then "mastered" words could be compared against a comprehensive list of words (a dictionary) to show what percentage of words in the dictionary a user has been "sufficiently exposed" to. Therefore, through the MyBrain App, learners would be challenged and helped to "sufficiently expose" themselves to all words in the dictionary. This would be an outstanding education because in order to learn every word in the dictionary, one has to expose themselves to every domain of knowledge and field of inquiry: science, medicine, agriculture, environment, math, computers, space, biology, geography, culture, history, government, etc. So learners who take on the "MyBrain challenge" would not only be on track to achieving basic literacy but be on track to becoming very well informed and knowledgeable citizens.
All of this becomes possible with the ability to tally word encounters and the sources they come from.