Brain training, like computational thinking, is unlikely to transfer to everyday problem-solving
In a recent blog post, I argued that problem-solving skills learned for solving problems in computational contexts (“computational thinking”) were unlikely to transfer to everyday situations (see post here). We see a similar pattern in the recent controversy about “brain training.” Yes, people get better at the particular exercises (e.g., people can learn to problem-solve better when programming). And they may still be better years later, which is great. That’s an indication of real learning. But they are unlikely to transfer that learning to non-exercise contexts. Most surprisingly, they are unlikely to transfer that learning even though they are convinced that they do. Just because you think you’re doing computational thinking doesn’t mean that you are.
Ten years later, tests showed that the subjects trained in processing speed and reasoning still outperformed the control group, though the people given memory training no longer did. And 60 percent of the trained participants, compared with 50 percent of the control group, said they had maintained or improved their ability to manage daily activities like shopping and finances. “They felt the training had made a difference,” said Dr. Rebok, who was a principal investigator.
So that’s far transfer — or is it? When the investigators administered tests that mimicked real-life activities, like managing medications, the differences between the trainees and the control group participants no longer reached statistical significance.
In subjects 18 to 30 years old, Dr. Redick also found limited transfer after computer training to improve working memory. Asked whether they thought they had improved, nearly all the participants said yes — and most had, on the training exercises themselves. They did no better, however, on tests of intelligence, multitasking and other cognitive abilities.