In its recently published report Brain Wave Module 2, the Working Group for the Royal Society, UK made a number of recommendations from the field of neuroscience to inform education policy. Naturally, they support the research done by neuroscientist, but they use caution against extreme optimism or fantastic claims (neuromyths). The report invites dialogue between researchers in the field of neuroscience, education and psychology – some would refer to this type of mix as educational neuroscience, vehemently disputed by others.
One recommendation that caught my eye refers to the use of adaptive technology for learning and cognitive training. The key point here is that while it is impossible to determine the quality of major mental processes, for instance reading, by just using current knowledge and tools in neuroscience, there are practical and demonstrable ways in which specific learning processes can be improved by using adaptive technology.
The science has not yet reached a level where complex mental processes that involve interactions extending far beyond the boundaries of the brain can be understood through empirical observations of the brain. However, neuroscience has made great progress in identifying areas of the brain that are involved in smaller specific functions that are active during thinking. Thus we can today determine which areas of the brain need a “workout” in order to improve certain thinking skills.
In the case of reading and numeric skills, research in neuroscience has made possible the development of tools that can be used for cognitive training which can greatly help learners overcome dyslexia and dyscalculia disorders.
Adaptive technology based on neuroscience is about developing software applications that can be used for adaptive training. As the learner makes progress through training, the software changes the difficulty of the exercises.
This is interesting, but I think if we stop here we would miss the big picture. Adaptive technologies used under the guidelines of educational policies can result in substantial improvement of equity, helping all students that need this type of training.
Advances in neuroscience can extend the application of adaptive technologies to other areas of learning in remediation and accelerated learning. It may be that one day, new methods and new technologies can improve dramatically our learning abilities helping us better deal with the deluge of information.