About us: Our History

Scientific Learning was founded on the belief that all students deserve to reach their maximum reading potential.

Four dedicated individuals.
One important mission.

The story of Scientific Learning begins with four research scientists: Michael Merzenich, William Jenkins, Paula Tallal, and Steven Miller.

When the work of these four scientists intersected, their collaboration proved that the underlying cognitive processes that influence speech and language problems could be identified—and permanently improved.

These findings led to the development of the Fast ForWord program, a groundbreaking computer-based reading intervention. The scientists then founded Scientific Learning to bring their program out of the lab and into the lives of struggling readers.
Our Founders

Dr. Michael M. Merzenich

Dr. Paula A. Tallal

Dr. William M. Jenkins

Dr. Steven L. Miller

The Changing Brain

As a student at the University of Portland in the early 1960s, Michael Merzenich discovered an interest in science that led him to the field of neuroscience.

He earned his Ph.D. in neurophysiology at Johns Hopkins and went on to the University of California at San Francisco, where he pursued his interest in how the brain processes information.

Among his achievements: developing the cochlear implant, which electrically translates acoustic signals into the nerves used for hearing.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Merzenich and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, ran a series of experiments designed to illuminate how the brain interpreted stimuli. They discovered that the brain actually changed physiologically when it learned or experienced something new.

More significantly, collaborative experiments by Merzenich and William Jenkins, Ph.D.—who joined the UCSF lab in 1980—showed the adult brain also demonstrated change and adaptation in response to behavioral stimuli.

“We established that the brain is modified on a substantial scale, both physically and functionally, each time we learn a new skill or develop a new ability,” said Merzenich. “Our brains were created to reinvent and reconfigure themselves throughout our lifetimes.” This ability is known as brain plasticity.

Another exciting discovery emerged when Jenkins spearheaded a study that showed progressive training could actually accelerate the rate at which the brain changed.

A Meeting of Minds

The Santa Fe Institute is a think tank devoted to fostering multidisciplinary collaboration between scientists who might not otherwise work together. In 1993 the institute held a conference at which Merzenich, Tallal, and Steven Miller—who was working with Tallal as a post-doctoral graduate student—were invited to present their research.

When she and Merzenich heard each other speak, says Tallal, it all fell into place. “It really clicked that we should work together,” she says.

Merzenich saw the possibilities, too. “Bill Jenkins and I had discussed using our training tools, as applied in monkeys, for impaired human populations, and we both realized that Paula’s kind of kid problem might be addressed with our kind of solution,” says Merzenich.

The four scientists obtained research funding to develop model training tools. Jenkins took the lead on creating the computer software that would be the foundation of the training components.

Jenkins and his team developed complex algorithms that could stretch the speed and enhance the components of speech, but the challenge was how to package the software so it would engage children.

The solution? Make a game of it.

The software component used to train the brain to increase its sampling-rate characteristics was disguised as something called Circus Sequence, while another component became Old McDonald’s Flying Farm.

Within six months, Jenkins, Merzenich, and their colleagues had a prototype product ready to go.

Taking the Next Step

The study results were published in the journal Science in the summer of 1995, and were presented at a conference in November, which sparked an article in the New York Times. The public response was immediate and overwhelming.

“Something like 20,000 people tried to call Rutgers to get information, but we don’t know exactly how many because the phone banks blew up,” says Miller. “In the end, we took about 17,000 calls, and CNN covered it.”

Soon, Rutgers and UCSF, who jointly owned the technology and the ideas behind it, looked into licensing it for commercial use, but the quality of the licensing applicants was underwhelming.

“My view was, the companies and the kinds of software that were out there would not leverage the science correctly,” says Jenkins. “I saw a lot of edutainment software out there purporting to provide educational benefit, but the designs weren’t neuroscience-based. The science was so important and the potential was so big, it didn’t make sense to risk it not being done well.”

In early 1996, Merzenich, Tallal, Jenkins, and Miller formed Scientific Learning Corporation. The company began offering the Fast ForWord program to speech language professionals and school districts across North America, and expanded over time to more than 40 countries worldwide.

Today Scientific Learning continues to create educational software that accelerates learning by improving the processing efficiency of the brain.

The Fast ForWord® family of products provides struggling readers with computer-delivered exercises that build the cognitive skills required to read and learn effectively.

Scientific Learning Reading Assistant Plus™ is the only reading solution to combine advanced speech recognition technology with scientifically-based courseware to help students strengthen fluency, vocabulary and comprehension to become proficient, life-long readers.

Copyright © 2021 Scientific Learning Corporation. All rights reserved.
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