Friday, October 24, 2014 · 5:21 p.m.
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Director of Chattanooga's LearningRx Michelle Hecker Davis said she initially thought "brain training" was too good to be true. But after seeing how it transformed students' lives, she became passionate about the process. (Photo: Staff)

Chattanooga’s LearningRx is one of 84 centers across the nation, and Director Michelle Hecker Davis said it’s often overlooked as a traditional tutoring facility.

But the “brain trainers” at LearningRx don’t focus what a student learns, they focus on how a student learns.

“It’s totally nonacademic,” she said. “We are working with skills like memory, processing, speed, logic and reasoning—all the skills that you need to be able to learn effectively and learn quickly.”

LearningRx leaders guarantee at least a two-year gain in cognitive skills, and some students improve more than that, Davis said.

Fast facts 

—The New York Times recently featured the LearningRx franchise. 

—The cost of brain training is comparable to tutoring, although the cost is different for each person. One session could cost $80, but leaders said brain training is faster and more efficient in creating gains. There are payment plans available and zero interest deals, Davis said. 

LearningRx leaders give the Woodcock–Johnson III test for $199. It can cost $600 to upward of $1,000 at other places, Davis said.

—LearningRx trainers do not diagnose cognitive disabilities. 

And although 75 percent of the LearningRx attendees are between the ages of 8 and 13, brain trainers work with people of all ages, she said.  

The training can help people who have had traumatic brain injuries, senior citizens and people with ADHD or autism.

It can help people who want to improve work performance or raise their IQs, Davis said.  

“We can train those skills, and we do that through a one-on-one training environment,” she said. “It’s something that’s a permanent change because it’s actually creating new neurological connections and new pathways and developing better brain function.”

In 2009, nearly 3,000 children, teens and adults worked with one of LearningRx’s 70 centers.

Sixty-two percent of students were male, and 38 percent were female, according to the report.

LearningRx brain trainers use game-like activities to target specific skills, such as memory. (Photo: Staff)

How it works
The brain uses a complex system of nerve cells, called neurons, to process information. While learning, neurons group and physically work together to accomplish learning and thinking, according to the LearningRx website. 

When doing new or unfamiliar tasks or when learning is intense, additional, nearby neurons join the process.

When a person masters the task, the extra neurons go back to their other work. But the gains in efficiency and processing are retained, making learning easier, according to the website. 

The brain is able to change neuron activity and connections when learning demand is increased, and brain training capitalizes on that ability to increase cognitive abilities. 

Before the training starts, the student takes a cognitive ability test called the Woodcock–Johnson III. 

Each student is different, and so each training program is different and targeted to achieve specific goals. 

The general LearningRx program works with seven key areas, such as memory, attention, auditory and visual processing, and logic and reasoning. 

There are also reading- and math-targeted programs.

“It’s customized based on observations and test scores,” Davis said. “You are targeting specific brain skills with specific people.”

Students attend training several times a week for between three and eight months. 

Trainers use about 50 different game-like activities with the students.

For example, students may read a flash card with colors written on them. And they must read the words as fast as possible.

But the words are also colored, so another task might be for a student to look at the word that says yellow, but the color is blue, so the student would have to say “blue” and go through the list as quickly as possible.

After the training, students are retested, so trainers can gauge how much they improved.

Parents and brain trainers said they see students who are totally transformed through the lessons. 

“All of our trainers are so personally attached to their students, so when you get it, when you have a success, we have a success,” Davis said. 

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