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Can Neural Imaging Investigate Learning in an Educational Task?

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journal contribution
posted on 01.06.2009 by John R. Anderson, Jon Fincham, Jennifer Ferris, Shawn Betts

A methodology is described for using fMRI brain imaging to study how students learn with an intelligent tutoring system. Students were imaged while learning an algebra isomorph. A cognitive model, which is capable of learning the material, identified 6 predefined brain regions as reflecting various aspects of the problem-solving and learning process. The model predicted that the learning would be mainly manifested as reduced activation in a lateral inferior prefrontal region reflecting increased fluency in retrieving relevant declarative information. This prediction was confirmed but there was also decreased activation in a predefined fusiform region suggesting increased fluency in parsing the problem representations. Exploratory analysis also found an anterior prefrontal region whose activity predicted individual differences in error rates. The cognitive model was modified to include an increase in visual fluency. A careful assessment was made of the models’ ability to predict the time course of the BOLD response over 1-minute problem-solving episodes.