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It was back in 1793 when an Italian surgeon and anatomist, Vincenzo Malacarne, took pairs of animals – dogs and birds, each pair born in the same litter – and put one through a long-term training regime and left its pair to carry on as usual. 

When he studied their brains, there were significant differences. Malacarne was onto something… the brain changes as a result of stimulation and training - and the concept of neuroplasticity was born. 

Unfortunately, this discovery was largely ignored until the last several decades.

Fast forward a couple of centuries to 1948 when the Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski first used the term “neural plasticity” to describe this ability of the brain to change and to the 1960s when Mark Rosenzweig - a psychologist at Berkeley - used the term “activity-dependent plasticity” to describe the brain’s ability to change physiologically and functionally as a result of targeted stimulation. 

In 2007, the publication of Norman Doidge’s breakthrough book, The Brain that Changes Itself, helped bring the science of neuroplasticity to the wider community.

Neuroplasticity means the brain can change

Today, we know for certain that the brain is malleable. Our understanding of how the brain can change is constantly growing. 

Arrowsmith, at its core, has been applying this knowledge to the field of learning challenges and learning capacities for more than 40 years- creating programs based on the principles of neuroplasticity to address cognitive weaknesses and to enhance cognition for those who wish to enhance performance..

There are many approaches currently in practice to support individuals experiencing learning challenges. Those most commonly used today range from:

  • drill and repetition (practicing the skill until it becomes learnt);
  • utilizing the individual’s strengths to compensate for and work around the areas of weakness;
  • and using tools and technology to circumvent the “area of challenge”. 

These methods all start from the premise that the learner is fixed and that learning challenges are lifelong conditions. The goal of these approaches is to adjust or modify the learning experience to accommodate the learning profile of strengths and weaknesses of that individual. 

What they do not do is address the underlying issue and implement a program that strengthens the child’s fundamental capacity to learn.

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How neuroplasticity, and cognitive programs, can change the brain

We now know, however, that where there are difficulties in cognitive processing, the less-than-optimal neurological connections that underpin such weaknesses can in fact be strengthened. 

This is important news for children (and adults) struggling with learning challenges. With targeted cognitive programs, people experiencing learning challenges can transform their relationship to the written word, to numbers – even to the world of social relations and emotions – by strengthening their brain, rather than simply finding ways to compensate for or work around their learning challenges. 

Here at Arrowsmith, we call our approach capacity-based training

What is capacity-based training? 

Capacity-based training is the process of increasing a person’s capacity to learn and understand, as well as to process information, through targeted cognitive programs that focus on strengthening and enhancing the specific cognitive functions that underlie the learning problem.

Arrowsmith’s method is fundamentally different from traditional programs currently offered for those with learning challenges. 

Capacity-based training doesn’t try to get around the problem by avoiding the area of weakness, and only using a person’s areas of greater cognitive strengths. Nor does it teach rules or strategies for approaching the material – whether it’s a math problem or a reading comprehension issue – from a different angle. And it doesn’t provide tools or technology to help the learner compensate for their difficulty. 

These traditional approaches work to address the symptoms rather than the cause. That’s because the cause, a specific cognitive weakness, was traditionally thought to be fixed and lifelong. 

We now know that it’s not, and so at Arrowsmith we have worked to develop a range of cognitive programs that learners can use to strengthen a range of cognitive functions - much like someone training in a gym repeats exercises to strengthen a particular muscle group. 

Many of our students have found that this kind of training hasn’t just enabled them to reach their academic goals - it has transformed their lives and their relationship to learning, to others, and to themselves. 

Our students have emerged from our capacity-based enhancement programs with an increased capacity to learn, an entirely different level of self-confidence and a dramatically increased sense of social and emotional well-being. 

Our brains do shape who we are. Changing a brain that is struggling with learning challenges by using scientifically-proven cognitive programs, can help people reach their full capacity – not just as learners, but as human beings. 

Interested in learning more about how Arrowsmith uses capacity-based training to enhance cognitive functions? Get in touch with our team today. We would love to answer any questions that you may have. 



Debbie Gilmore
Post by Debbie Gilmore
January 3, 2023
Debbie Gilmore is a passionate change-maker and Executive Director of Arrowsmith, dedicated to transforming education and learning worldwide. With over 40 years of experience spanning classrooms to administrative roles, she's driving educational reform. Debbie collaborates globally with educators and professionals in a wide field to help them bring about cognitive enhancement to unlock every human’s potential.