Training your working memory while learning

The working memory is the part which is used while you work, read, learn or take in information. It is the part that enables you to work with information over a short space of time, like the RAM memory in a computer. Children with ADHD have been shown to have impaired working memory indicating its necessity in concentration and attention span. So how can you train and utilize this part of your memory to make learning easier?

Child and adult learning

The working memory is highly utilized in children studying in the classroom. It is essential for retaining focus when learning basic arithmetic and reading therefore children perhaps rely more heavily on the working memory than adults. Children with learning impairments such as dyslexia or ADHD have shown improved working memory capability when the approach to learning as well as their environment is adapted. The working memory matures to adult level and capacity at around the age of 14 or 15. As adults perhaps do not always continue to train the working memory throughout their lives, they may have trouble with focus and attention span. This is where learning strategies may help to retrain the working memory.


The ability to focus is essential while studying a subject for long periods of time. This can be less than stimulating but meditation can help learners sustain their attention when studying a difficult subject. Meditation has been shown to stimulate frontal regions of the brain connected to working memory as well as intelligence therefore can help you take in information and be able to recall the information more efficiently. Meditation induces feelings of calm therefore can help with stress if there is a lot of information for the working memory to process.

Stimulate visual memory

Children have been shown to rely greatly on visual working memory, but there is no reason that adults cannot train this aspect of their memories during learning. In fact, many adults respond more quickly to images than words. Attaching an image to a word or phrase is a working memory activity which will help you recall information faster while learning. Another popular working memory aid is to picture items to remember in rooms of a house. Students can remember related concepts or terminology by utilizing working memory this way.

Dual coding

Remembering a term or piece of information two ways improves the likelihood of learners remembering that information. For example, hearing the information required combined with visualizing or seeing images of the information enables students two different ways to recall the information. Research shows that students presented with a concept in two forms recalled the concept more efficiently than those who were only given the information in the form of a narration or description of the concept. Presenting the information in the form of an image combined with written words can also improve working memory when learning.

The n – Back Task

This test was devised in the ‘50s and is still commonly used today to determine working memory capacity and capabilities. The task involves being shown a sequence of information such as letters or numbers. Learners must then remember the position of a selected number, letter or item when it is repeated in the sequence. For example, a 2 – back test would require the learner to indicate when an item comes up again that came up two steps prior. The repetition of this task using longer sequences is a great way to train the working memory to study more complex information such as mathematical equations.

Chunking, stories and mnemonics

These strategies enable learners to recall large quantities of information by viewing it in a different way. For example, learners can remember a sequence of numbers by ‘chunking’ them into several smaller groups. Learners can also tell a short story incorporating the concept they have to remember with long-term memories. Many study groups and schools still make use of mnemonics as a learning aid. This involves the use of different, often simpler, words with the same first letter of the term that is to be learned. This is ideal for items to be learned in a series or sequence. Bear in mind that, while these tasks are able to train the working memory on certain pieces of information, it has been shown to be useful only when applied to similar concepts. So, where chunking may enable the working memory to retain certain types of material, you may have to apply another strategy to different aspects of a subject.

Studying can require an intense amount of focus and training your brain’s working memory can make the task less daunting. You will be able to take in and recall more information over a short space of time which is great for those working to a tight learning schedule. Try out some of the above learning methods, aids and tasks and see your working memory improve over time.

Author: Jocelyn Brown

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