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No Gain From Brain Training
Experiment Disproved

Recent research, published in the acclaimed Nature journal, implies that the brain can’t be improved by training. The study tracked more than 11 000 participants in a six-week online study and found that healthy adults using computer-based brain training do not improve their mental fitness in any significant way. However, at Edublox we make extensive use of brain training activities to help learners to read and learn better. After reviewing the research, our conclusion is that the research findings actually support and confirm our approach to cognitive development.

In short, the findings are that the use of computerised activities to train the brain does have some level of impact on specific cognitive skills such as visual attention, but that the learning does not transfer to other tasks. The exact findings of the researchers are as follows:

“…these results provide no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerized brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning. ‘Brain training’, or the goal of improved cognitive function through the regular use of computerized tests, is a multimillion pound industry, yet in our view scientific evidence to support its efficacy is lacking. ....

“However, the widely held belief that commercially available computerized brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population in our opinion lacks empirical support. The central question is not whether performance on cognitive tests can be improved by training, but rather, whether those benefits transfer to other untrained tasks or lead to any general improvement in the level of cognitive functioning. Here we report the results of a six-week online study in which 11,430 participants trained several times each week on cognitive tasks designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention. Although improvements were observed in every one of the cognitive tasks that were trained, no evidence was found for transfer effects to untrained tasks, even when those tasks were cognitively closely related.”

So the question now is — how does this relate to the learning approach that Edublox is following?

Firstly, in the research only computerised programs were used and the participants could choose which activities to do and for how long. The participants, on average, did ten minutes of exercises/activities three times a week for six weeks — and that it is not enough for any significant improvement. Timewise, it is the equivalent in brain training of only three lessons at Edublox. Furthermore, their training effort was not structured at all, whereas we’ve spent many years in determining the best program to achieve the best results. Our approach is to make computer training part and parcel of an overall program, and not the only activity.

Secondly, no mention was made of the difficulty level of the activities — the fact that it did not increase in a very specific manner is very different from the Edublox approach.

Thirdly, although the research study involved more than 11 000 participants, these participants were not children. Almost all of the participants were older than 18, while the learners at Edublox are much younger of age.

Lastly, and most importantly, the study states that “improvements were observed in all the cognitive tasks, but the transfer to untrained tasks did not take place”. Edublox has developed and implemented specific activities to enable the transfer of cognitive skills to other tasks such as reading. And, while it is true that we sometimes start seeing transfer of these skills within only six weeks, this is not nearly enough to guarantee a sustainable improvement.

This means that the “brain training” approach does work — but only when the learning program is structured and implemented properly, used for a significant period, and activities to transfer the skills developed to other tasks are included — which is exactly what we do at Edublox!