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Fast ForWord vs. Lumosity or Brain HQ

Which brain training software is right for your child?

New software is now available to take advantage of neuroplasticity to improve brain function, although their respective game designs and goals are very different.

Brain HQ and Lumosity are brain stimulation games.  The protocols suggests 2-3 sessions a week for a few minutes to keep adult brains fresh. Neither program tracks outcomes. Participants do progress steadily through the game levels but there is no proven transfer. There is no proof that better game-skills translate or “transfer” into gains in reading, comprehension, attention or other life skills.

Fast ForWord is a heavy-duty remedial reading program. The protocol is 3-5 days a week for at least 30 minutes a day with professional oversight and guidance. It targets auditory processing and other cognitive skills as a way to improve reading and learning proficiency. Pre- and post-testing correlates to the national reading standard measure, Woodcock Johnson. The aim of the program is to make cognitive skill gains that transfer into measurable reading and language improvements. Fast ForWord has 240+ studies that for the most part prove this transfer occurs.

What is Brain HQ?

brain hq softwareBrain HQ is an online version of Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Program, which was previously sold as a CD to seniors to improve memory and brighten processing and listening skills. Its founder, Dr. Michael Merzenich, was a co-founder of Fast ForWord — Brain HQ incorporates the cognitive exercises used in Fast ForWord.

Its programs address cognitive issues related to aging, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, schizophrenia, and chemobrain conditions.

What is Lumosity?

lumosityLumosity is mainly for adults. Because it is visual and does not target language processing, it does not help reading difficulties. Lumosity is the most popular adult brain-training program available today, with an exercises in memory, pattern recognition, visual processing speed and reasoning.

What Is Fast ForWord by Gemm Learning?

fast forword logoFast ForWord is a series of cognitive and reading programs aimed primarily at reading issues for K-12 children. Because the software first addresses cognitive and language skills, it is an effective program also for ADD and learning efficiency. Fast ForWord is online, supervised by Gemm Learning professionals.

Where Brain HQ, Lumosity and Fast ForWord Are Similar

While Fast ForWord is light years ahead in terms of studies to validate results, there are features in common:

  1. Cognitive Training To Change Brain Function
    All three programs exercise cognitive skills using adaptive exercises that add speed and/or complexity in tiny increments. Brain HQ and Lumosity are primarily focused on memory and processing speed, while Fast ForWord is focused on reading, and the auditory processing, language and attention skills required for reading.
    Why brain training?
  2. Neuroscience Based
    Neuroscientists developed all three programs. Fast ForWord was developed by 4 world-renowned American neuroscientists and cognitive researchers.  Its development included work in about 50 leading universities around the world. Brain HQ was developed by a team lead by Dr. Merzenich, while Lumosity uses university research, mainly from Stanford University.

Where Brain HQ/Lumosity and Fast ForWord by Gemm Learning Differ

Proven vs. Unproven Outcomes

Because Fast ForWord is always provided in a managed environment (either in the room or monitored remotely), it lends itself to peer review study conditions where the study set up matches the actual student experience. Because Lumosity and Brain HQ provide their service without supervision, it is hard from them to make any real claims — doing a study with monitored students would not reflect the experience of their actual client base.

For Lumosity in particular the research is sparse. There is not much evidence of gains beyond the skills gains in the exercises themselves.  In fact, the FTC fined Lumosity for over-stating its research backing.

In contrast, Fast ForWord is first and foremost a reading program — its outcome goals are clear. The 240+ studies of Fast ForWord around the world use nationally-accepted reading assessments for pre- and post-testing.  While a handful of studies yielded disappointing results — mainly due to the make up of students (not all candidates for the program) or the rules imposed on supervision and intervention (to matching the active involvement of program managers at Gemm Learning) — the vast majority of studies show gains of 1-2 years in 3-4 months. Gemm Learning student gains exceed this average due to our higher service levels and slightly longer average service period.

Age Profile

Fast ForWord is primarily for K-12 children, while Lumosity and Brain HQ cater to adult needs. This is important:


  • Fast ForWord starts at a level children can handle. It pulls them to sequentially higher levels in tiny, incremental steps. The adult program exercises are much harder. To avoid boredom and to capture attention from the outset, the exercises start at a higher base level or are just flat-out adult-level exercises.
  • Fast ForWord emphasizes phonological awareness and sound discrimination, essential decoding skills many young children have yet to master. After a lifetime of listening to language, most adults have no problems here. Therefore, phonological awareness exercises are not part of Brain HQ or Lumosity.
  • The computer game graphics are very different. Fast ForWord has a K-3 program with young graphics, and a space-age theme designed to appeal to older children and teens. While most reviews of Brain HQ and Lumosity describe the games as engaging, their interface and content aims at adults.

Program Content, Goals and Outcomes

While Brain HQ and Lumosity primarily target declines in brain function from aging, Fast ForWord is a reading program. It starts with sound-based cognitive exercises and then quickly moves into decoding and fluency, language structure, spelling and comprehension — reading skills not addressed in the other two programs.

Monitored vs. Unsupervised

At-home programs are notoriously ineffective, if only because participation at home without supervision can be inconsistent. That is fine if you are doing an online brain training program to help brighten your life a little. It is not fine if you are relying on the program to help your child turn the corner in reading or at school. Gemm Learning provides constant supervision and motivational tools to help you stick with it and get results.

Brain HQ, Lumosity or Fast ForWord?

The choices are clear cut:

  • If you are an adult looking to improve processing, memory or even learning efficiency skills then Brain HQ or Lumosity are great alternatives.
  • If you are a parent looking for a reading or learning program for your K-12 child, then Fast ForWord is the only real choice.
  • If you are an adult with a reading problem, your choice is more complex. While Brain HQ and possibly Lumosity can improve some cognitive skills, you are on your own.  There is no oversight or guidance.  Furthermore, these programs do not cover the fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension exercises seen in the Fast ForWord series.

The reviews of Lumosity and Brain HQ are reasonably positive.  However, the starting goal, mind improvement as opposed to remediation of reading difficulties, is a low bar.  Many activities are “good” for the brain.  By comparison, the positive Fast ForWord reviews reflect success in delivering on much higher goals, overcoming reading and learning difficulties.