And what if advances in neuroscience and technology could merge to revolutionise the way students learn in schools?
Neuroscientist Professor Adam Gazzaley from the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, knows he’s onto something big on these fronts.
On June 7 he touched down at EduTECH in Sydney to share a snapshot of his pioneering research – and plant a few small seeds of hope – with a hall of transfixed educators.
The world is in the midst of a “cognition crisis”, Gazzaley contends, and our mental health is declining across the board. Schools are no exception.
Mental health issues are rife in schools, and this is impairing our children’s memory, imagination, creativity and perception – even their ability to show compassion and regulate their emotions.
As a society we need to make mental health a “global priority” and seek out ways of enhancing our cognition so that we can not just survive, but meet our “high level” goals.
This is precisely where developments in neuroscience and technology can help, Gazzaley says.
Armed with the right tools and knowledge about the brain and how it learns, wondrous possibilities for education open up.
We can start to build a “multi- modal” approach to learning that can challenge young minds in ways in which they need to be.
We can start to transform our inadequate assessment regimes and really extend the unique processing systems that fire up each child’s brain.
And as the founder and executive director of Neuroscape, a ‘translational neuroscience center’ that develops brain assessment and optimisation tools, Gazzaley speaks from a position of authority. In his quest to “bridge the gap between technology and neuroscience”, the expert is working on developing a whole new system of games that can offer targetted learning experiences.
Games that can tap into each of our neurological abilities and hone in on the areas that need work.
“Experiences are the gateway to our brains’ plasticity; the entire basis of all learning,” he says.
Video games, in particular, are a powerful form of interactive media that can create “closed loop” systems of feedback to the gamer that can fuel deep neurological functions.
Drawing on the latest advancements in software (think brain computer interfaces, GPU computing, cloud-based analytics) and hardware (virtual/augmented reality, motion capture, physiological recording devices, transcranial electrical brain stimulation), Gazzaley and his team are starting to nut out the ways in which our brains can be made to better tick.
In short, the types of rewards and feedback that occur through “deep immersion” gameplay are known to improve brain function.
It’s a “surgical approach to how we process information,” he says.
Video games, he adds, might be able to help humanity in another crucial way: to treat neurological disorders.
For 60 years we have been using medicine to try and fix conditions like ADHD and depression, Gazzaley says.
But what if we could design therapeutic video games that could re-wire and heal these affected brains?
It’s a bold premise, and one which Gazzaley intends to explore further.
If the world does indeed face a “cognition crisis” we’ve now got a glimpse of a viable solution.
“Technology has challenged a lot of our goals in education, and we know it’s about to get a lot more complicated. But there is great promise here,” Gazzaley says.