What is the most effective way to enhance working memory?

You may not be aware of it, but you use your working memory (aka short-term memory) on a daily basis. So it’s no wonder you want to keep it in optimal shape!

There are 2 types of working memory: auditory (everything you hear) and visual-spatial (everything you see). And even though it sounds scientific, the bottom line is this:

Working memory is a thinking skill that helps you to

  • process new information
  • understand what this new information means
  • remember it when you need it
  • recall it (or play it back) immediately after you’ve processed it

A few real-life examples of when you use your working memory are:

  • whenever you learn a new sport
  • when you’re taking an exam
  • when you’re writing a shopping list or packing a bag for vacation
  • every time you follow a set of instructions or directions

So what’s an effective way to enhance this useful skill?

Here’s one: whenever you learn something new, teach it to someone else.

What are the benefits of teaching what you’ve learned?

This technique is easy to practice, gives you confidence by strengthening your knowledge of the newly-learned material, and boosts your memorization. You can review, recall, and retain what you’ve learned better and more effectively than just passively keeping it to yourself without taking any action.

How do you actually teach what you’ve learned?

Start with these tips:

  • Get an audience, real or imaginary. A real audience can be a close friend, study partner or family member. But if you’re too shy to speak to anyone about what you learned, you can pretend that you have a few invisible students who really need to learn the same thing, and talk to them. Even better: grab the family dog or cat and talk to it. Pets can be excellent listeners and a captive audience!
  • Create your own classroom. If you’re going to teach someone something, you need to create the space in which to do it. Take a large sheet of white paper (or tape together several sheets for a bigger writing surface), then tape it to your bedroom wall at eye level. Be sure you have some leg room to stand in front of it. Have a pen handy, and a thick black marker or different colored highlighters to underline important concepts. Now you have all the tools to begin.
  • Get to work. Here’s where you’ll have the opportunity to apply what you’ve just learned. Start with this simple sequence of steps:
    • Stand in front of the large sheet of paper you’ve taped to the wall, and write an outline of the most important points or concepts of what you just learned. It can be a set of simple directions on how to do something, or a few key concepts you’ve learned from a chapter in your textbook.
    • Then, go over each of the steps or concepts aloud one by one. As you’re talking, make you “lecture” more interactive by drawing diagrams on the side, small illustrations or even short lists of examples. You can also tell a short story or joke to add a touch of humor to what you’re teaching.
    • At the end, summarize the key parts of what you covered by going over the main parts of your outline once again, and highlight these sections with your thick marker or highlighter. This visual tip helps you recall details better and can solidify what you’ve learned.
  • Keep it top of mind. You’re already done teaching what you learned, so you completed the lecture part of the learning process. But it will help you if you keep what you learned top of mind the rest of the day. Whenever you find yourself on a long commute home, or doing a workout at the gym or nearby park, or as you’re running errands, ask yourself to repeat the key concepts again. This is a perfect time to go over them, remembering how you wrote your outline on the paper, talked about each point, and highlighted the main sections using different colors. Repeating newly learned material will reinforce your knowledge of it even more, and you’ll be optimizing your working memory in a way that’s useful to you, regardless of what you’re working on!
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