There are a wide variety of alternative learning programs currently available that target students who are having difficulty in the traditional learning environment. Many of these programs speak of current research into “neuroplasticity,” and provide compelling explanations of why their approach is unique and effective. This post will explore three popular programs, including relevant research and the pros and cons of each.
Fast ForWord is an online educational program designed to help school age children improve a variety of cognitive skills, with a focus on reading and language. Developed and sold by the Scientific Learning Corporation, Fast ForWord claims to help students improve in the areas of attention, memory, processing rate, and sequencing.
Fast ForWord is built on the concept that children can improve temporal processing (the rate at which we process auditory information) by practicing specific skills on a computer program. The original Fast ForWord program used progressively complex computer-generated speech sound drills to increase awareness and processing of these sounds. Children are expected to use the program 30-90 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Research: The Scientific Learning Corporation claims independent research validating their results. Some studies show promising results, including improvements for children with autism or language impairment. Most studies have small sample sizes and links to the parent organization.
A 2010 report published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry conducted a meta-analysis of all published studies and concluded it found “no evidence from this review that the program is effective as a treatment for children’s reading or expressive or receptive vocabulary weaknesses”. A 2013 report by The Institute of Educational Sciences reviewed 9 studies of Fast ForWord, and determined a medium-large effect on alphabetics and reading comprehension, and a none-small effect on reading fluency. More analysis of research results can be found here.
PROS: Can be done at home; Uses computer games, which many kids enjoy; 30 years of research experience, including peer-reviewed journals Can purchase a package that includes support from online consultant.
CONS: Research results are mixed, with most unbiased professionals showing skepticism; Expensive- costs are over $1000; Does not necessarily include 1:1 sessions with a trained professional.
Brain Gym is a group of 26 movement exercises designed to improve learning. Brain Gym is an international non-profit organization that develops curriculum, promotes its educational theories, and trains instructors. Brain Gym claims improvements in concentration and focus, memory, academics, coordination, relationships, and attitude.
Brain Gym is rooted in Educational Kinesiology and the belief that the foundation of learning lies in physical movements. Integrating the mind and body increases the ability to process and retain information. Exercises used in Brain Gym draw from three dimensions of body movements (left/right, front/back, and top/bottom). Brain Gym coordinates and integrates movements within and between these dimensions. It is believed that when the body and mind are coordinated, people learn more effectively.
Research: Brain Gym states that its philosophy is based on empirical evidence, not neurological research. Brain Gym explains that scientific studies are costly and difficult. Two studies from the 1990s show promising trends. A small 1994 study showed increases in motor function among learning disabled students, but no significant improvement in academics. A 1991 study showed increases in response times of college students who participated in Brain Gym.
Meta-analysis of Brain Gym research shows that significant outcomes are lacking. Most researchers believe that Brain Gym’s claims for improvement in academics are not supported by significant evidence. More analysis of research results can be found here.
PROS: Brain Gym exercises are easy to implement; Costs of Brain Gym sessions are set by individual instructors, and may be significantly lower than other programs; Some research suggests improvements in movements, behaviors, and self-esteem.
CONS: Very little published research; Requires certification course to learn routine; Makes broad claims of results with little empirical data.
Neurolinks is a Physio-Neuro Therapy program that uses a variety of physical and cognitive exercises to reprogram the brain and strengthen learning and academic performance. Neurolinks is an intensive 1:1 therapy program that participants attend for 5-6 hours a week, over 6-7 months. Results are said to be long-term once reprogramming is achieved.
Neurolinks is based on a treatment program developed in 1988 by the company Learning Technics called Physio-Neuro Therapy. Physio-Neuro Therapy was developed on the premise that learning disabilities are caused by underdeveloped areas of the brain, and that targeting these areas with neurological exercises will cause new neural tissue to develop.
Research: Research regarding Physio-Neuro therapy is very limited. Learning Technics sites four studies done in schools, and claims improvements in academic performance. These studies have small sample sizes, no randomized control groups, and no validation from outside sources could be found.
PROS: Results are long-term once achieved; 1:1 tutoring with a professional; Program has been around for almost 30 years.
CONS: No available peer-reviewed research studies; Prices are not available on the website, but 1:1 sessions are costly.
Target population: Fast ForWord- School age children with problems in reading and learning; Brain Gym- Children with learning and sensory challenges. Also used with adults and seniors; Neurolinks- School age children with learning disabilities.
Format: Fast ForWord- Educational software products. Recommend using online products 3-5 days/week for 30-90 minutes/day; Brain Gym- Series of 26 physical exercises, taught by certified instructors Neurolinks- Variety of physical and neurological exercises. Attended 1:1 sessions, 5 hrs/week for 6 months.
Outcomes: Fast ForWord- Some evidence for improvement in reading and writing skills. 2010 meta-analysis shows no evidence for statistically significant results; Brain Gym- Claims improvements in academics, attention, and motor skills. Significant criticism regarding lack of scientific research; Neurolinks- No published research available. 4 studies conducted through Learning Technics show improvements.
Other programs to explore:
Therapeutic Listening– Mixes sound-based interventions with sensory integration activities
TalkAbility– A program for parents of verbal children on the Autism Spectrum that helps children learn people skills
Integrative Listening Systems– a multi-sensory program for improving brain function
You may be also interested in the book Understanding Controversial Therapies for Children with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, and other Learning Disabilities by Lisa Kurtz (available on Amazon.com).
Has your child or student participated in any of these learning programs? If so, please share your experience to help others who are seeking for alternative learning programs.
Disclaimer: All content on this blog is for informational purposes only. The author makes no claim to the accuracy or completeness of this information or of any links. The author is not liable for any errors or omissions, losses or damages.