By the start of 1996, four neuroscientists had spent 25 years researching both how our brains learn and also ways to help people with dyslexia, autism and specific language impairment.
The scientists were Dr Michael Merzenich - now known as “The father of neuroplasticity”, Dr Paula Tallal, Dr Bill Jenkins and Dr Steve Miller. They co-founded the Scientific Learning Corporation (SLC) and Fast ForWord is the registered trade name of the platform SLC built to translate basic neuroplasticity-based training research into clinical and educational products.
In doing this they established 5 “world firsts”:
- Scientific Learning Corporation was the first company cofounded by academic scientists with the mission of building neurocognitive interventions.
- Fast ForWord was the world’s first cognitive neuro-therapeutic intervention
- Fast ForWord was first to be individually adaptive in real time
- It was the first “brain fitness” program that collected data over the Internet
- And the first to use computer gaming technologies to change brains and enhance human potential
According to Dr Paula Tallal, (from her article: “Fast ForWord®: The Birth of the Neurocognitive Training Revolution”)* their goals for Scientific Learning Corporation included, “Using neuroplasticity-based training to:
- Improve language, literacy, and other academic skills;
- Helping people learn English as a second language, and
- Helping seniors maintain and recover function.”
A disruptive innovation
Dr Tallal says, “We did not know at the time that we were creating what became a ‘disruptive innovation’.”
The innovation that the four neuroscientists created evolved from general cognitive neuroscience to the now rapidly growing discipline of educational neuroscience.
“Despite the critical role aural language plays in academic success, with over 80% of classroom instruction presented aurally, it is remarkable that there is little if any formal school curriculum focused explicitly on receptive (comprehension) and expressive (spoken) language development.….. Once formal education begins, if a child begins to struggle, intervention is focused on reading. Put simply, schools are in the business of teaching a child to learn to read, not to talk or listen. However, if our ultimate goal is to improve literacy outcomes, what is needed is:
- a better scientific understanding of how the brain learns to process and produce language,
- how language forms the foundation upon which literacy skills depend, and
- how to effectively transfer this scientific knowledge to clinics and classrooms in the form of effective and efficient intervention tools.
The Fast ForWord series of training programs (there are currently 10 products, including Fast ForWord Language , Literacy , and Reading Levels 1–5 ) was developed to address this need,” Tallal said.
Now, 20 years later, over two million children in 55 countries have used Fast ForWord programs. On any given school day, more than 60,000 students login to train on one of the 10 Fast ForWord brain training or reading development programs.
Learn about Educational Neuroscience.
*From Paula Tallal, “Fast ForWord®: The Birth of the Neurocognitive Training Revolution”
In Progress in Brain Research, Vol. 207, Burlington: Academic Press, 2013, pp. 175-207. Editors: Michael M. Merzenich, Mor Nahum, Thomas M. Van Vleet.