Neuroscientists and psychologists use the term working memory to describe the brain function whereby we hold and manipulate chunks of information in the mind for short periods of time. A useful analogy is to think of working memory as a kind of mental workspace or note pad. It is the ability to keep information in your mind for a short time and use that and other information for some desired purpose. With a working memory deficit it is difficult to stay focused, reason, plan next steps, remember instructions and accomplish tasks.
A good illustration of working memory in action is doing mental arithmetic. Try to multiply 17 by 43 in your head without using pencil and paper. If you are interrupted or distracted, you lose all the data and have to start again. Another example might be memorising a telephone number in your mind while you search for your cell phone to dial the number. Another might be making sense of a long sentence that you are reading. If you forget the first part before reaching the last part, you have to start again.
Working memory drives your ability to concentrate and not lose your train of thought. Children with ADHD are particularly vulnerable and constitute a prime population for working memory training. In the academic world, studies show a deficit in working memory often leads to difficulties in reading, comprehension and maths.
There is now extensive evidence of the relationship between working memory and learning outcomes. Although working memory has been studied for years, only recently did Swedish neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg, the founder of Cogmed, show that it can be trained and enhanced. Previously it was thought to be fixed and immutable.
Cogmed Working Memory Training is a digital therapeutic programme that has been shown in a large number academic research papers to improve working memory. It is appropriate for all age groups.
Training takes place at home, usually five days a week for five weeks, although other timing plans are now available. Doing it over five weeks, each session usually lasts about 35 to 40 minutes. The software automatically increases in difficulty as a person’s abilities improve. The programme includes weekly telephonic contact to help coach and monitor performance, which can also be viewed online.
After training, users can expect to improve their ability to concentrate, control impulsive behaviour and are better able to utilise complex reasoning skills. In the case of learners and students, better academic results can be achieved especially in maths and reading. In addition, users report improved social skills and other benefits in daily life such as taking initiative, remembering things and completing tasks.
Some very recent studies have been able to show which brain networks are strengthened after Cogmed training. There are now over 100 published academic studies supporting the benefits of training. These can be accessed here with links to the full article or the abstract (summary). Please feel free to contact Gerard Finnemore for further details.