20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory

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  • 7/29/2019 20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory


    20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory

    Its important to understand the characteristics of working memory when

    youre designing nearly anything that requires mental effort. Without adapting learning

    experiences to the learners cognitive architecture, instructional design is hit or miss.

    Current research in this area is demonstrating that working memory (a theoretical structure) is

    a dynamic and flexible entity.

    The Basics

    1. Working memory used to be called short-term memory. It was redefined to focus

    on its functionality rather than its duration.

    2. Working memory can be thought of as the equivalent of being mentally online. It

    refers to the temporary workspace where we manipulate and process information.

    3. No one physical location in the brain appears to be responsible for creating the

    capacity of working memory. But several parts of the brain seem to contribute to this

    cognitive structure.

    Capacity4. Working memory is characterized by a small capacity. It can hold around four

    elements ofnewinformation at one time.

    5. Because learning experiences typically involve new information, the capacity of

    working memory makes it difficult to assimilate more than around four bits of information


    6. The capacity of working memory depends on the category of the elements or

    chunks as well as their features. For example, we can hold more digits in working

    memory than letters and more short words than long words.7. The limitations on working memory disappear when working with information

    from long-term memory (permanent storage) because that information is organized into

    schemata. Schemata are higher order structures made up of multiple elements that help

    to reduce the overload on working memory.


    8. Novel information in working memory is temporary. It is either encoded into long-

    term memory or it decays or is replaced.

    9. Unless it is actively attended to or rehearsed, information in working memory

    has a short duration of around 20 seconds.

  • 7/29/2019 20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory


    10. Similar to the capacity issue, it takes mental effort to hold information in working

    memory for an extended time and can also be a cause of cognitive overwhelm.

    Interactions with Long-term Memory

    11. There is a continuous transfer of of information between long-term memory and

    working memoryboth retrieval and transfer.

    12. Information is retrievedfrom long-term memory into working memory in order to

    make sense out of new information.

    13. Information that we attend to and integrate into our knowledge structures

    is transferredorencodedinto long-term memory.

    Individual Differences

    14. Current research demonstrates that individual differences in working memory

    capacity may account for differences in performance of information processing tasks, like

    reading and note-taking.

    15. In studies with children, those who have a poor ability to store material over brief

    periods of time (difficulties with working memory) fail to progress normally in tasks

    related to literacy.

    16. An individuals developmental age and level of expertise probably account for

    differences in working memory. For example, facilitating learning can be helpful for

    novices but detrimental to experts. See Novice Versus Expert Design Strategies.

    Cognitive Load

    17. Cognitive load refers to the demands placed on working memory in terms ofstorage and information processing.

    18. Intrinsic load is caused by the nature of the learning task and extraneous load

    refers to the demands caused by the format of the instruction.

    19. Cognitive load theory states that traditional instructional techniques can overload

    working memory because they dont account for intrinsic and extraneous load.

    Instructional designers can facilitate learning by considering and accommodating

    different loads.

    20. Germane load refers to the demands placed on working memory when learners

    are engaged in conscious cognitive processing to construct schemata while acquiring

    new knowledge. Increasing the germane load can most likely assist the learning process.


    Patricia L. Smith and Tillman J Ragan. Instructional Design, Wiley, 2004.

    Tamara van Gog et. al., Instructional Design for Advanced Learners. ETR&D, Vol. 53, No. 3,

    2005, pp. 7381.

    Wolfgang Schnotz and Christian Ku?rschner.A Reconsideration of Cognitive Load Theory.

    Educ Psychol Rev (2007) 19:469508

  • 7/29/2019 20 Facts You Must Know About Working Memory


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