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Research Behind Brain Training

Up until about the turn of the millennium, the neuroscientific belief was that past a certain point in our lives, our brain did not change — we had what we had, and that was it. In fact, any change would be that it shrank as neurons died. But this view has been overturned by neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates how the brain can undergo change.

Pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity reveal that the brain is plastic throughout life — it is constantly changing. Changes associated with learning occur mostly at the level of the connections between neurons — new connections can form and the internal structure of the existing synapses can change. New neurons are constantly being born, particularly in the learning and memory centres. When you become an expert in a specific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill will grow.

To Susan du Plessis, Director of Educational Programs at Edublox reading and learning clinic, these studies didn’t come as a surprise. “I’ve always believed that the brain is like a muscle, and that by ‘training your brain’ you can boost your brain power just like physical activity can strengthen your muscles,” she says. In fact, in her first book, The Truth about Learning Disabilities (1993), which was published before the introduction of the field of neuroplasticity, she theorised as much.

Neuroplasticity Is Key to Overcoming Learning Challenges

It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of learners in every classroom are not achieving as well as they could. Some have been assessed as having learning disabilities such as ADD, ADHD or dyslexia, while others have not been assessed but everyone knows they “should be doing better”.

Part of the complexity of the problem is that a child can be struggling for a number of reasons. Research has shown, however, that a weak foundation in cognitive skills is the biggest issue facing struggling learners and readers. Underlying cognitive skills — concentration, auditory processing, working memory, etc. — must function well for you to efficiently and easily read, think, prioritise, understand, plan, remember, and solve problems.

Many children become frustrated and find schoolwork difficult because they do not have the cognitive skills required to process information properly. Hundred and thirty studies have shown that 88 percent of below-grade-level readers have significant weaknesses in cognitive skills.

Recent studies support the notion that many children with ADD/ADHD have impairments in cognitive skills, especially working memory. Working memory is the cognitive system responsible for the temporary storage and manipulation of information. For example: to solve an arithmetic problem like (3 X 3) + (4 X 2) in your head, you need to keep the intermediate results in mind (i.e., 3 X 3 = 9) to be able to solve the entire problem. Working memory is necessary when staying focused on a task and blocking out distractions.

Dr Susan Gathercole, a renowned expert from the University of York, calls working memory “the engine of learning” because it has shown to be the primary indicator

Computers assist in brain training classes, offered at Edublox reading and learning clinics.
of academic performance. When this “engine” doesn’t “run smoothly” learners struggle to keep up with their classmates and become inattentive, tend to daydream, and develop bad attitudes.

The great news is that, through targeted brain exercises, cognitive weaknesses can be attacked head-on. Cognitive functioning in the areas of speed, attention and concentration, language, memory, and problem solving, just to name a few, can be strengthened, improved and increased. Studies show that by using proper training methods, one can target, modify, and develop the brain to improve deficiencies, and the fastest, most efficient way to do this is through brain training exercises that specifically and directly target deficient skills.

The articles below are provided to further your knowledge of brain development and its relation to learning: Edublox research studies and scientific articles: