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Working Memory Underpins Cognitive Development, Learning, and Education


Working memory is the retention of a small amount of information in a readily accessible form. It facilitates planning, comprehension, reasoning, and problem solving. I examine the historical roots and conceptual development of the concept and the theoretical and practical implications of current debates about working memory mechanisms. Then, I explore the nature of cognitive developmental improvements in working memory, the role of working memory in learning, and some potential implications of working memory and its development for the education of children and adults. The use of working memory is quite ubiquitous in human thought, but the best way to improve education using what we know about working memory is still controversial. I hope to provide some directions for research and educational practice.

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This work was completed with support from NIH grant R01-HD21338.

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Correspondence to Nelson Cowan.

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Cowan, N. Working Memory Underpins Cognitive Development, Learning, and Education. Educ Psychol Rev 26, 197–223 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-013-9246-y

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  • Working memory
  • Cognitive development
  • Learning
  • Education