By Rod Evans
LearningRx uses Neuroscience to improve Learning and Thinking Performance
“What we do is very much like what a personal trainer does for someone who is serious about transforming their body,” said Brian Bertrand, director of the newly-opened Houston-Clear Lake LearningRx Center. “Just as people hire a personal trainer for rigorous one-on-one exercise that will achieve a physical transformation, we offer the same thing for the brain. Our brain trainers work in a one-on-one format using tailored mental activities that target weak cognitive skill areas, resulting in dramatically-improved cognitive skills that make our clients smarter.”
Founded by Dr. Ken Gibson in 2002 in Colorado Springs, Colo., LearningRx has grown into a nationwide network of 90 centers dedicated to helping children and adults learn and perform faster, better and more easily.. The essential first step is identification of the root cause of the learning or reading difficulties. Far more effective in the longterm than the use of a tutor, the LearningRx methodology works instead to strengthen underlying cognitive skills through the use of scientifically-based and clinically-proven brain training systems. “Brain training transforms the way the brain is wired so that thinking and performing come more naturally, eliminating the frustrations that drain a person’s confidence,” Bertrand says. “We do so by getting to the true root cause of a person’s learning struggles, specifically the seven key cognitive skills that are most strongly correlated with the ability to learn and perform.”
Bertrand moved to the Clear Lake area in the 80’s to work in NASA’s Space Shuttle program, and fell in love with the root-cause approach used at LearningRx since it offers many of the ingredients he experienced in his systems engineering background. Bertrand lists the seven key cognitive skills as: attention, processing speed, working memory, long term memory, auditory processing, visual processing and logic and reasoning skills. He says if one or more of these areas are weak, the person’s struggles will persist until the root cause is identified and strengthened, as weak cognitive skills are responsible for 80 percent of learning difficulties. He says while the majority of their clients are struggling students, LearningRx also works with mid-career adults seeking to gain an edge in their profession, as well as seniors who want to build their cognitive abilities.
The LearningRx brain trainers work to re-wire the brain via neuroplasticity, which Bertrand explains is the brain’s ability to be “plastic and moldable.” Bertrand says, “In essence, we seek to take a brain that has poor or insufficient neuronal connections, and develop stronger and more numerous connections in their place.”
“Because our brains consist of a complex weave of connections, the goal is to maximize the connections and the strength and organization of the connections a person possesses, leaving them able to function more smoothly and naturally on mental tasks. If a person is a struggling learner or performer, the connections are likely to be much less strong and less expansive, and the result is poor or irregular mental performance. Until that is changed, the struggles will repeat themselves throughout the person’s life. But, through the successful application of neuroscience, it does not have to be that way, because mental exercises really can help a person be a better thinker, performer and learner,” says Bertrand.
The methods employed can help anyone who wants to improve their thinking skills. Some examples of those who can be helped are those with focus/attention issues, struggling readers, avoiders of school or homework, those with poor memory who cannot perform on tests or presentations, and slow performers who are usually the last to finish an assignment or task, or who take three hours to finish homework assignments that should take less than an hour to complete. “Imagine the positive impact in the household if homework time took much less out of the household evening,”says Bertrand.
Begins With Evaluation
Bertrand says the LearningRx process always begins by seeking the root cause of the struggle, and this begins with the administering of the Woodcock Johnson III assessment test , which is considered the “gold standard” method of testing intellectual ability and cognitive skills. In addition, a questionnaire that acquires observational information from the person’s overall and family life is also utilized in the process. These two sets of information are quick to gather, and combine to give a great amount of insight into the specific weaknesses that need to be targeted for improvement. A consultation is then scheduled to explore the proper pathway to improvement.
“Following the initial consultation, we identify the most effective program option, matching the needs of the individual,” Bertrand explains. “We then assign them to a one-on-one brain trainer, and begin scheduling sessions. The programs last anywhere from 12 to 32 weeks, depending on the starting point and goals of the client. We begin targeting the weaknesses, as we look to bring struggle areas up to moderate-to-strong levels, but since all cognitive skill areas are worked within the programs, the strong areas are typically made even stronger.”
Brain training sessions consist of highly-targeted, customized exercises designed to increase the person’s capacity to think and learn. The intense, but fun program includes game-like exercises and activities, all of which are tailored to the individual.
“Each exercise works multiple cognitive skills at the same time, so the programs are thorough and address the gamut of thinking and performing skills. Because attending to a subject is the first step in the learning process, and because many clients suffer from attention issues, the programs address and build-up the three forms of attention skills: sustained, selective and divided attention. Some clients struggle in all of them, while others may just struggle with one or two. Regardless, all of them are addressed as part of the program,” Bertrand says. “Other exercises work to improve visual processing, auditory processing, processing speed, working and long-term memories, and logic and reasoning skills.”Bertrand says successful completion of the program yields results beyond the academic arena, because a person who is a more fluid and natural learner will have reduced learning frustrations, contributing to greatly-improved confidence and self-esteem. In total, the results can launch a person off the sidelines of life, and into the game as a serious player, where their full potential can be unleashed. According to LearningRx figures, 70 percent of the students working through the program at its centers across the country come because they are experiencing attention issues, while 54 percent are dealing with reading problems. While these are the most common areas, the programs can help anyone who needs cognitive improvement. As such, a significant number of clients seek help for learning difficulties such as dyslexia, while people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries have also been helped by the programs. And the results are often dramatic: statistics show that students who complete 24 to 32 weeks of brain training have increased their IQ by an average of 20 points.
Bertrand adds that the LearningRx system also benefits digital-age kids who can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and the lightning speed that it travels.
“The speed of life in all directions can exacerbate focus issues and can lead to situations where the brain responds in a scattered versus a focused manner,” he said. “We find that dealing with a person across the table in a one-on-one format tends to be enjoyable for these kids, and helps improve how they process information in our increasingly complex world.”
“We use practical implementation of the field of neuroscience to help people struggling to learn,” Bertrand says, “and we build them up while they build their skill sets. The result is a person with greater confidence who is a better thinker and performer.”