Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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.

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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.