Learning and Memory-What Works? Article 1: Brain Training

What Works-Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow and Co-founder of Lexercise will be exploring the controversial subject of “brain training” and other educational programs in this bi-weekly series. There are so many programs out there, it can be hard to know which one is the right one for your child. Sandie will teach you what is scientifically proven to work and what to look for so you don’t get stuck in a snake oil pit.


You have probably heard the ads for Lumosity’s “brain training” program claiming that playing their computer games “benefits everyone”. They stated playing their games 10 -15 minutes a couple of times a week could improve memory, protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, improve attention and focus, boost school, work and athletic performance as well as reduce the negative effects of medical and mental health conditions.

In January 2016 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission imposed a multi-million dollar fine on Lumos Labs, the parent company of Lumosity, for “false or deceptive representations”. FTC Commissioner Julie Brill cautioned that companies should not overstate the benefits of products or imply that using these products can “transfer to real-world benefits”.

In the wake of this action by the Federal Trade Commission it is worth thinking about the claims companies make about brain training and the differences between brain training products and therapy. Brain training products are usually, but not always, used with little or no professional guidance. Digital brain training products are typically plug-and-play. Physical “brain boosting” products or guidebooks are typically done following the same steps for all. In contrast, therapy, teaching or coaching, aims to improve skill(s) and does not center on a product but on application of a methodology and is customized, at least to some degree, to an individual. At its best, the methodology is based on consensus research and implemented by a well-trained, experienced professional.

The analogy of the three-legged stool summarizes consensus research on what works for overcoming reading, spelling and writing difficulties. updated stool graphic-03 small

This is clearly not the kind of quick, easy, one-size-fits-all fix touted by “brain training” products. But how do the elements represented by the stool’s legs actually work to produce results? How can parents use the three-legged stool analogy to select an intervention that will produce “real world” reading, spelling and writing results for their struggling student?

In the coming weeks I’ll discuss four research conclusions about how we learn and remember, and I’ll explain why each of them depends on these three elements –and the way the elements work together.

If you enjoyed this article, make sure you read part two and three in the series. You can read the second here and the third here. 


References upon request.

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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.