Working Memory as a Bottleneck in Learning

Humans are endowed with remarkable cognitive capacities but one area where we are seriously limited is working memory. Working memory is the mental space where we do conscious, active thinking--and that space has limited capacity. It is easy to demonstrate the limitation by trying to do mental arithmetic; try to multiply 2489 X 4361 in your head. Most people quickly lose track of where they are, and the numbers disappear quickly. A fundamental problem in learning is that working memory is a bottleneck--everything new that we learn has to go through working memory before we can commit it to permanent or long term memory.

Students are confronted with large amounts of new material to process and may experience cognitive overload on a regular basis. The volume of new information exceeds working memory capacity. It is possible to use teaching strategies that help students manage the volume of new terminology, concepts and ideas. The two videos below describe working memory in more detail and how teachers can help students make better use of working memory. 

Working Memory and Cognitive Load


How to Manage Cognitive Load