Thursday, 22 January 2009

Memory pills on the way

Back in March last year I posted on how we'd soon be able to pop a pill to get smarter. Well it seems that the current semi-illicit practice will go mainstream if AstraZeneca and Epix Pharmaceuticals get there way.

As reported in the Telegraph, medicine designed originally to help treat Alzheimer's disease could be adapted and licensed for sale in a weaker form within the next few years:

Steven Ferris, a neurologist and former committee member of the Food and Drug Administration in the US, has predicted that a milder version will be available for healthy consumers as a "lifestyle pill" available over the counter.

Dr Ferris said: "My view is that one could gain approval, provided you showed the drugs to be effective and safe. It could be a huge market."

You bet, Steven. In fact there is already plenty of appetite for these cognitive enhancers amongst the student communities in the US and UK and no doubt elsewhere in the world where they are undermining the classic examination and assessment certification that predominates in education around the world.

Provigil, used to treat narcolepsy, is being taken by some students to help them stay awake, while Adderall XR and Ritalin, treatments for attention deficit disorder, are being used to help promote concentration.

Clearly there are risks but it seems we are not far away from this going mainstream. It will be interesting to know what effect "cosmetic neurology" has on how we design learning experiences going forward. Indeed, we may end up requesting learners to pop a particular pill to support particular forms of learning depending on the cognitive activity at hand.

If you happen to be attending the Learning Technologies show in London next week then do stop by the Brightwave stand and say hello. I'm holding a seminar in the main hall area on "Mission Critical E-Learning" which is free to attend - do come along and give me your feedback.

Oh and you can try some Think Gum - designed to improve learning and memory recall - and get a taste of things to come.


Chris Brannigan said...

A good spot. These articles are always a hoot. I bet the original research paper is way more conservative than when the marketing guys got hold of it - ie. it propbably never mentioned cognitive enhancement

We are always looking for the quick fix and one day we may get one but for now cognitive enhancers are still science fiction. But your right, any mention of an association and helicopter parents will buy up the global supply in minutes.

As a designer of games and sims for learning people often mistake these for learning without the hard work. Its not. The students still have to put in the deep processing, reflection and practice necessary - maybe more enjoyable but the hard processing is still required. No getting away from that for learning for some time yet.

Hope to catch you at Learning Technologies.

Lars Hyland said...

Thanks for the comment, Chris. Certainly, these cognitive enhancements cannot replace the underlying motivation and cognitive work needed to properly cement and practice new knowledge and skills. But if they do manage to sustain focus, concentration etc then it makes study and the general learning process more productive, arguably. We'll see.

Look forward to catching up at LT 2009. We can chew (Think Gum?) the cud further there...