Are you as confused as this poor 31st century student? What does our society really know about enhancing the way we perceive, encode, and process information? It turns out that while there are a number of misleading yarns about learning enhancement in the media, the science of training continues to illuminate verifiable ways to sharpen your expertise and reinforce your retention. Want to master a new language? Try learning the material in a variety of contexts (i.e., your living room, a public park, a dusty library) and states (energized in the morning, tired at night). Research shows that learning is both context and state dependent; you can maximize your chance of successful retention by repeated practice in a variety of places and moods (Godden & Baddeley, 1975). Want to teach your employees a complicated new technique? Prioritize spacing their learning across several days with scheduled breaks in the action (Son, 2004). In experimental settings, spaced learning has been widely shown to trump massed cram sessions, and yet thousands of dollars are routinely invested in workshops aimed at packing a month’s worth of information into several high octane hours.
In 2014, a community of 70 leading cognitive psychologists signed a statement announcing: “…we object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do.” (Redick et al., 2013; Shipstead, Redick, & Engle, 2012). This may sound deflating given all the new software at our fingertips but don’t lose hope. There are verified ways to combat cognitive decline. One tried and tested method is regular aerobic exercise. We now know that regular exercise improves neurocognitive performance (Smith et al., 2010), directly promotes neural plasticity within memory hotbeds such as the hippocampus region of the cortex (Voss et al., 2013), and may even stimulate adult neuro-genesis (brand new neurons) in the hippocampus (Ernst, Olson, Pinel, Lam, & Christie, 2006).
The student’s book report concludes “…the Ancient Americans of 2016 looked to the software and games they had perfected, and for a moment lost track of science backed tools they had in front of them all along.” In this age of rapid innovation, we cannot neglect the practical, cost-effective benefits of careful training solutions based on firm scientific evidence. Brain games and training apps continue to offer us enjoyment and a novel way to experience content but should not replace a regular visit to the gym.
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