the last decade there has been an increasing awareness of the relationship
between learning and cognitive skills.
The term â€ścognitive skillâ€ť refers to any mental skill that is used in
the process of acquiring knowledge, including attention, working memory,
reasoning, perception, intuition, planning, and so forth.
the required interplay of cognitive skills to the learning process has led to
questions, such as (1) can improving cognitive skills improve learning ability,
(2) do cognitive skill deficits contribute to learning difficulties, and (3)
when learning difficulties are present, can cognitive skills be improved such
that learning ability improves?
studies as well as anecdotal reports suggest that the answer to all three
questions can be yes. As a result
numerous cognitive skills training programs have become commercially
available. Often, these programs
will offer some type of cognitive testing from which cognitive skill deficits
can be identified. Afterwards, a
regime of cognitive exercises designed to strengthen identified deficits is
provided. Similar to athletic
exercise, the success of cognitive skills training programs relates to the
effort put in.
National Science Foundation (NSF), recognizing the potential benefits of
improving general learning ability, is currently funding a $1 million research
project designed to assess the effect of cognitive skills training programs on
cognitive skill level. In part this
study will also investigate if changes in brain structure and function can be
seen following cognitive skills training classes.
this study, cognitive skills training classes have been
incorporated into a normal high-school curriculum such that students
participate in cognitive skills training 1-hour a day, 5-days a week, and for
19-weeks. Also, two methods of
administering cognitive skills training are being assessed. The first involves one to one instruction,
i.e. a cognitive skills trainer instructs a student individually on the
cognitive skills exercises. The
second utilizes an online cognitive skills training course where students
independently complete the cognitive skills exercises on a computer, however, a
facilitator is in the room to ensure students are working on the cognitive
exercises. To track brain changes,
functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans, which are non-invasive and
do not involve ionizing radiation, are acquired before and after participation
in the 19-week cognitive skills training programs. Approximately 200 students are participating in the study. Forty
of these underwent and initial fMRI scan and will complete the post fMRI scan
work by the primary investigators of this project found that in a group of
middle school students studied, students with higher cognitive ability utilized
parts of their brain differently than those with lesser cognitive ability. â€śThe students who were of quote higher
intelligence used the part of the brain weâ€™re interested in differently. On the easier task, they didnâ€™t really
use their brains. On the harder
tasks, their brains lit up. With
the lower group, we started seeing the activation of their brain on the easier
tasks.â€ť The investigators are
eager to see if cognitive skills training can actually make the cognitive tasks
easier for the lower ability students and if they can do more of the cognitive
testing before their brain activates.
hope to have the results of the study published by the end of 2012.
The researchers also believe this study will have implications for all learners, including those with special needs.