We examined the initial stages of orthographic learning in real time as literate adults learned spellings for spoken pseudowords during fMRI scanning. Participants were required to learn and store orthographic word forms because the pseudoword spellings were not uniquely predictable from sound to letter mappings. With eight learning trials per word form, we observed changes in the brain's response as learning was taking place. Accuracy was evaluated during learning, immediately after scanning, and 1 week later. We found evidence of two distinct learning systems—hippocampal and neocortical—operating during orthographic learning, consistent with the predictions of dual systems theories of learning/memory such as the complementary learning systems framework [McClelland, J. L., McNaughton, B. L., & O'Reilly, R. C. Why there are complementary learning systems in the hippocampus and neocortex: Insights from the successes and failures of connectionist models of learning and memory. Psychological Review, 102, 419–457, 1995]. The bilateral hippocampus and the visual word form area (VWFA) showed significant BOLD response changes over learning, with the former exhibiting a rising pattern and the latter exhibiting a falling pattern. Moreover, greater BOLD signal increase in the hippocampus was associated with better postscan recall. In addition, we identified two distinct bilateral brain networks that mirrored the rising and falling patterns of the hippocampus and VWFA. Functional connectivity analysis revealed that regions within each network were internally synchronized. These novel findings highlight, for the first time, the relevance of multiple learning systems in orthographic learning and provide a paradigm that can be used to address critical gaps in our understanding of the neural bases of orthographic learning in general and orthographic word-form learning specifically.

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