Working Memory

  • Do you know of anyone who has difficulty memorizing information?
  • What about someone who struggles to retain information during multi-step tasks, such as arithmetic?
  • Do you or your child require significant repetition to learn new information?
  • How often do directions need to be repeated to be understood and implemented?
  • Is it challenging to do two things simultaneously, such as listen and take notes?

Nearly all aspects of human life depend on memory. Problems with memory can prevent and/or interfere with acquisition of skills and knowledge necessary for success in life. Memory problems are frequently the cause of learning struggles but often are overlooked. Over the past 35 years, working memory (WM) has emerged as an important area impacting memory performance.

Working memory is defined as management, manipulation and transformation of information drawn from either short-term or long-term memory. More importantly, WM is necessary for skill mastery, dealing with new information/problems/situations, maintaining new information and retrieving old information.

Why is WM important for learning? Mainly because of its limitations or limited capacity. A typical individual can manipulate only about four pieces of information at a time in WM. Unless the information is being manipulated, it remains in WM for only about two seconds. Successful learning is largely a function of the individual’s WM capacity. The more automatic a task, the less WM required.

Conditions that have been shown to have WM deficits include ADHD, autism, cognitive disabilities, acquired brain injury/TBI, schizophrenia, stress and aging.

A significant relationship exists between the capacity of WM and the ability to learn. Documented significant relationships have been found between WM and the following areas of learning:

  • reading decoding
  • reading comprehension
  • language comprehension
  • spelling, following directions
  • vocabulary development
  • note taking
  • written expression
  • reasoning
  • complex learning

Please contact our clinic if you know of someone experiencing WM difficulties or if you are interested in more information about WM.


Dehn, Milton. Working Memory and Academic Learning: Assessment and Intervention.

Pickering, Susan J, editor. Working Memory and Education.