Standardized vs. Customized Programs Learning Programs

Components of an Effective Cognitive Enhancement Methodology

  1. Science-based to ensure the methodology is based on proven scientific principles.
  2. One-on-One (individualized) to ensure undivided and individual attention while building a therapeutic alliance between the trainee and trainer.
  3. Customized to target deficits in a way that is appropriate to age and ability. This is critical for the trainee to be engaged and to maximize the gains of the program. This requires trainers to be empowered and capable of developing the programs and modifying exercises as needed.
  4. Evidence-Based Results of progress to ensure results that are evident empirically (through real-world benefits) and clinically through an independent and reputable battery of cognitive tests to measure the gains derived from the training.
  5. Immediate Feedback to ensure the right habits are practiced and enforced.
  6. Progressive & Challenging to ensure appropriate levels of complexity and intensity in a way that evolves as skills improve.
  7. Intensity of high-impact, concentrated repetitions to ensure that the neural activity generated through training forms sustained neural pathways that support improvements in cognition.
  8. Sequencing to improve concentration and focus with incremental steps.
  9. Consistency to ensure the neural activity leads to connections that are wired together (long-term potentiation) for improved performance that is sustained over time.
  10. Loading to ensure automaticity while improving divided attention and processing speed.
  11. Holistic approach to ensure goals are being fully met. This can be achieved by integrating the cognitive training with other practices or collaborating with others working with the trainee: teachers, tutors, speech pathologists, counselors.
  12. Engagement & Motivation to ensure meaningful change occurs on a personal level. Professional cognitive trainers must demonstrate the ability to engage and inspire their trainees through proven experience working one-on-one, as well as the ability to understand their emotional, behavioral and cognitive profile.


Why “Brain Training” Programs Tend to Fall Short

The difference between custom, in-person programs delivered by professionals versus playing games online is stark. Nonetheless, given the ease of scaling the online platform and the low-cost for consumers, they are often the public’s only reference point to cognitive training. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a program:


  1. Defining Baselines and Measuring Gains Clinically

An independent, clinical, and scientific cognitive skills assessment should be conducted before starting a cognitive training program. This defines a trainee’s baseline and should influence the program’s design. Independent cognitive assessments, such as The National Institute of Health Toolbox, allow providers to identify any cognitive gaps/deficits, develop an appropriate training program, and measure post training benefits in a way that is scientific and unbiased.


  1. Customizing Programs

Standardized programs offered online or by franchisors do not account for the unique neurological profile and personality traits each trainee presents as well as a customized, in-person program can. Tailoring a program to each unique cognitive profile, while understanding the trainee emotionally and behaviorally, ensures the selection of the appropriate exercises and the modification of these as needed. More importantly, in-person training should evolve to the development of a plan to transfer gains achieved through training to the trainee’s life. Online training, in contrast, offers little hope of gains translating to real-world improvements.


  1. Delivery Channel

The single channel of delivery used in online training — the computer monitor — sharply reduces the efficacy of training each cognitive area. Learning, internalizing, and applying memory techniques, for instance, requires an interactive give-and-take between trainer and trainee, and an approach that is both customized and age appropriate, which computerized training cannot provide to any meaningful extent.


  1. Credibility

If the company offering the cognitive programs uses its own tests to evaluate cognitive skills and gains, it loses credibility as it is designed to avoid objectivity and accountability.


  1. Media & Technology

The amount of information we are exposed to has increased exponentially due to technology (200 times more than we were exposed to just twenty years ago). This information overload leads to rapid shifting, which can weaken our sustained attention and affect how deeply we are able to think about the information we consume.


  1. Motivation, Discipline & Effort

Ironically, the casual nature of online brain games makes them easy to ignore and leave one prone to procrastination, — the very behavior many trainees seek to change.  Appointments with a professional trainer enforce regularly scheduled sessions and commitment.

Cognitive training is most effective when it is consistent and intense, which fosters long-term potentiation (persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity).

Online training is often done erratically and out of curiosity, rather than with the consistent and conscientious effort cognitive training requires. In the beginning, online brain training can be fun and novel, but once people feel like they have hit a wall, whether out of boredom or frustration, they tend to stop. On the other hand, a professional trainer can build a therapeutic alliance, adapting to these and other changes in a student’s motivation. A cognitive training professional uses proven strategies and techniques, positive encouragement, and customization to consistently provide real results.




Cannot react to student to motivate, engage, and adapt. Scientists’ critique: training gains unlikely to generalize.


Not cost effective: if a trainer could follow a standardized approach, then that person could be replaced by a computer for a fraction of the cost.


Virtually impossible: automation requires standardization.


Certified professional plays a large role in the end result. Their judgment and training are essential to the success of the program.