Educational applications: cognitive training and academic performance

afOne of the first com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams ever com­mer­cial­ized was cre­at­ed for the K12 edu­ca­tion seg­ment. The prod­uct, called Fast For­word, was launched by Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (SCIL) in 1997. It focused on help­ing stu­dents with dyslex­ia and was dis­trib­uted through clin­i­cal channels.

Giv­en the pres­sures on aca­d­e­m­ic results inten­si­fied by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, school dis­tricts have invest­ed heav­i­ly in pro­grams that direct­ly address aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­plines such as math and read­ing. Cog­ni­tive train­ing, in com­par­i­son, suf­fers giv­en its “indirect” rela­tion­ship to those aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­plines. Although it may be log­i­cal to assume that if a pro­gram helps a child improve under­ly­ing read­ing-relat­ed cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties that the pro­gram will ulti­mate­ly help the child be a bet­ter read­er, clin­i­cal research has not yet been con­duct­ed to solid­i­fy this crit­i­cal link beyond the small per­cent­age of kids with severe dyslex­ia problems.

In 2002, the U.S. Depart­ment of Education’s Insti­tute of Edu­ca­tion Sci­ences estab­lished the What Works Clear­ing­house (WWC) to pro­vide the edu­ca­tion com­mu­ni­ty and the pub­lic with a cen­tral­ized and trust­ed source of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence of what works in edu­ca­tion. So far, two com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams have mer­it­ed inclu­sion in the What Works Clear­ing­house: Sci­en­tif­ic Learning’s Fast For­word and Houghton Mifflin’s Earobics.

In order to include a pro­gram in the Clear­ing­house, review teams comb through the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture and ana­lyze the appro­pri­ate research evi­dence sup­port­ing spe­cif­ic edu­ca­tion­al inter­ven­tions. The pri­ma­ry goal is to clar­i­fy the evi­dence of causal valid­i­ty in exist­ing stud­ies, cat­e­go­riz­ing them in one of three ways:

  • “Meets Evi­dence Stan­dards” for ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­als and regres­sion dis­con­ti­nu­ity stud­ies that pro­vide the strongest evi­dence of causal validity,
  • “Meets Evi­dence Stan­dards with Reser­va­tions” for qua­si-exper­i­men­tal stud­ies; ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­als that have prob­lems with ran­dom­iza­tion, attri­tion, or dis­rup­tion; and regres­sion dis­con­ti­nu­ity designs that have prob­lems with attri­tion or dis­rup­tion, or
  • “Does Not Meet Evi­dence Screens” for stud­ies that do not pro­vide strong evi­dence of causal validity.

Based on the stud­ies that pass this screen­ing and are cat­e­go­rized as either “meets evi­dence stan­dard­s” or “meets evi­dence stan­dards with reservations,” the What Works Clearn­ing­house issues a report that sum­ma­rizes the inter­ven­tion and its evi­dence-based results. This report can be found on the What Works Clear­ing­house web­site.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewsletter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.

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