Definition Of Working Memory and Strategies for Success

Posted by Erica Warren on

Recent research suggests that working memory is one of the best indicators of academic success, so strengthening this cognitive skill can offer great benefits to struggling students with memory deficits. 

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is a short-term, cognitive function with limited capacity that gathers sensory input and memories to complete a mental activity. When sensory information passes through the short term memory and reaches our conscious awareness, working memory processes the information through internal thoughts, visualizations (visual and spatial), and one's inner voice (verbal working memory). It acts like a mental workspace that allows one to manage attention, manipulate information and access prior knowledge for long term memory.  Working memory capacity is limited to 4-9 elements, but memory strategies can increase it with the use of strategies such as chunking.  The working memory model below helps you to see that working memory is a vital component of executive functioning (depicted as the conductor or central executive of the brain). The image below is a depiction from the research of Baddeley et al)
Definition of working memory shows a conductor and the brain

Why is a Good Working Memory Beneficial for Students?

When students have a strong working memory, it is easy for them to do a number of helpful cognitive tasks that encode new material and places information into longterm memory.  In particular, working memory allows one to:
  1. Manage attention
  2. Conduct mental math and problem solving
  3. Follow a series of directives
  4. Encode and retrieve information into and out of long term memory
  5. Maintain stamina during complex tasks
  6. Take notes while listening to a lesson

Working Memory Training?

One can strengthen this skill by practicing activities that require working memory.  In addition, learning specialists and educational therapists can work with students to help them learn how to utilize parts of cognition such as one's inner voice and visualizations to assist memory.  In addition, students can also learn memory strategies so that new information is properly encoded and easy to retrieved.  Come learn more about how to strengthen memory recall.

infographic that educates about working memory

Clearly, working memory is a very important cognitive skill that can be strengthened!  As students learn about working memory performance and how to use it, they can unleash their true potential.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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