Friday, December 7, 2012

Rapid Learning Therapy and the Brave New Classroom (a Satire)

The Fredersen Institution, a private biomedical research facility endowed to advance the science of learning, has released the results of an expansive study to develop new educational methodologies.  The results, says Institute Director Dr. Ross M. Zeug, will substantially alleviate the financial burdens associated with education, by helping schools introduce more efficient learning strategies. “This is a bold, pioneering work,” says Dr. Zeug, “and we are pleased to share this success with our colleagues across the academic profession.”

Dr. Zeug admits that the initial studies at the Institution were unsuccessful and frustrating. In the first phase of research, students of diverse background and interest were provided curriculum via intensive audiovisual media, using information assembled from the Network.  Students’ learning outcomes were subsequently determined via standard assessments such as the American Proficiency Exam. Unfortunately, many of the participating subjects developed symptoms of anxiety and dysphoria, and a significant number requested to leave the study. “Our entire approach,” says Dr. Zeug, “was at risk because the students were experiencing learning fatigue.” However, once these symptoms were diagnosed, researchers were able to seek therapies to mitigate it. They drew upon pharmaceutical approaches developed to mitigate fatigue in a very different context- on the battlefield.

Rudimentary pharmacological approaches to reduce fatigue were first developed around the second World War, as personnel working with new, complex machinery found themselves in circumstances demanding acute attention and focus over extended periods. Until that point, short-term stimulative supplements such as caffeine and nicotine had sufficed, but the new technical challenges required increased focus and lucidity. An important breakthrough was the isolation of amphetamine in the early 1930s. Following its introduction to the military, combat pilots could undertake extended missions with extraordinary focus and precision, with sufficient detachment to avert natural stress responses that can compromise performance.

“A light bulb went off,” recounts Dr. Zeug, “when we realized that we needed to focus our attention on mitigating learning fatigue… while also helping students feel rewarded for accomplishment.” This insight led the Fredersen team to explore a novel combinatorial psychotherapeutic approach.  Prior to treatment, students are provided an environment that encourages relaxation and eliminates stray audiovisual stimuli. Next, students are administered a combination of amphetamine salts, which greatly enhance mental acuity, as well as reuptake inhibitors for serotonin and dopamine, which positively modulate the mesolimbic pathway and almost instantly help students begin to find reward for positive learning outcomes.

The learning process begins as audiovisual media compiled from the Network are introduced at an accelerating rate into the rapid learning environment, and the supplements are automatically adjusted in order to optimize students’ responses to assessment queries.  The results indicate that almost all students enrolled in one of the Institution’s rapid learning modules outscore their traditionally schooled peers on standard examinations. In addition, virtually none of the participating students reported fatigue or discomfort, even as materials are introduced as much as twenty times faster than ordinary speech. “The students learn more information, at much higher speed,” says Dr. Zeug, “and they also report pleasing sensations as they gain knowledge.”

The most significant costs associated with the Fredersen methodology arise from the design of the encapsulated learning environments required to eliminate cognitive interference and prevent adverse interactions between students due to asocial behavior- a temporary side effect of rapid learning therapy. However, the expenses associated with these facilities are quite modest compared with the archaic infrastructure -libraries and classrooms- required to preserve traditional educational methodologies. “Cost was our foremost consideration,” says Dr. Zeug. “We wanted to ensure that the technology could be available and affordable to everyone.” Dr. Zeug notes that rapid learning therapy relies on commonly available medicines that can be produced in larger quantities to help reduce cost further.

Current research at the Fredersen Institute aims to develop more advanced learning assessments. One particularly promising method is to implement noninvasive brain scanning techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). “We find that we can quantify engagement of specific portions of the brain with fMRI,” says Dr. Zeug, “and that clears the path toward real-time assessment of engagement and learning.” These comprehensive assessments could be used to compile aptitude profiles for each student, to guide them efficiently toward their most appropriate career path.

The Fredersen approach is not entirely without its detractors. At a recent symposium on teaching, Prof. Carl Chapeck, Lecturer Emeritus at the Walden School, raised concerns regarding de-emphasis of the broader kinds of experience associated with more traditional learning environments. “I worry about the process of maturation and forming wisdom,” says Dr. Chapek, “and I worry that our pupils might not know what happens when one sips from the Pierian spring.” In response, Dr. Zeug notes that his team has already developed a rapid learning module that delivers a comprehensive treatment of Greek mythology within one twelve-hour session.

N.b. this piece is satirical in purpose and any resemblance to actual persons, facilities, or events is entirely coincidental. 

Recommended reading/viewing: 
"R.U.R." by Karel ńĆapek; 
"Metropolis" by Fritz Lang; 
MSNBC: Adderall Abuse on the Rise Among College Students

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