Time for some ‘Brain Training’?

8 December 2016

There should always be time for our brains to have a work out. Of course, school is as good a place as any. New research on the perils of ‘brain training’ may just give us a little steer on how best to go about it.

For the last decade and more, purveyors of ‘brain training’ have promised much about how we can expand our memory and turbo-charge our flagging grey matter. From the care-home to the classroom, there are beguiling messages about how we can better learn with some technology and some ‘brain training’.

A new study, shared in an excellent article on The British Psychological Society website here, entitled ‘Brain training may be more harmful to some aspects of memory performance‘, doesn’t just quash notions of the benefits of brain training – it warns that such an approach may actually damage our capacity to remember effectively.

Now, a wider review of ‘brain training’ has already drawn into question the advertised benefits of such approaches – see here. It was complied by respected researchers, including Dr Susan Gathercole (author of this excellent resource for schools and teachers: ‘Working Memory: A Classroom Guide’). The evidence that it is potentially damaging – see here – should give us pause. Practice in the wrong way, like brain training, really does make imperfect in the human brain.

Now, this all feels a little removed from the classroom, but it should give us pause as teachers and school leaders.

First, we should consider, are we focusing on approaches to memory or other aspects of learning that may have unintended consequences? And how could we evaluate whether that is the case? It makes evaluating our own practice and knowing our impact a clear imperative. Also, we should ask: are we using new technologies that are unproven that need better evidence before we chuck out our existing methods? Finally, we should be wary of generic solutions to specific problems. How do we remember a maths problem? Well, we know and remember our maths knowledge, alongside the steps to undertake with a maths problem.

We need time for some ‘brain training’, but not of the ‘Brain Training’ variety, if we want to better remember and learn.


Posted on 8 December 2016
Posted in: Evidence
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