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Memory is an essential prerequisite of success in learning because it influences individuals’ abilities to memorize and recall information, complete tasks, and apply knowledge in daily life. According to the working memory model, working memory is a system that allows storing a small amount of information for a short period of time. This makes working memory instrumental to many everyday tasks, such as following directions, typing a new phone number, or remembering steps in a particular activity. Besides that, working memory is also important in education, where it can support learning in both children and adults. This is primarily because working memory is perceived to be pivotal to attention control since it helps to activate and maintain information relevant to completing a task. Engle and Kane (2004) state that working memory capacity “is critical for dealing with the effects of interference and in avoiding the effects of distraction that would capture attention away from maintenance of stimulus representations, novel productions, or less habitual response tendencies” (p. 149). Cowan (2014) also explains that good working memory supports kids’ cognitive development.
While learning is of crucial importance for children to be successful in their future life, young learners are often more susceptible to distractions. Because of these factors, working memory training is of particular importance in early education. Researchers in psychology and education have been attempting to design effective interventions for children to expand their working memory capacity. The present paper focuses on the issue of working memory training in kids and seeks to answer a research question “What working memory training interventions are effective for children?”. As part of the literature review, the paper will consider studies on working memory interventions for children with low academic performance, as well as those diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Cogmed Working Memory Training (CWMT)
The study by Chacko et al. (2014) focused on a specific intervention called Cogmed Working Memory Training (CWMT), aiming to examine its role in enhancing working memory in children aged 7 to 11 years. According to the researchers, CWMT is a computerized training program that focuses on working memory capacity (Chacko et al., 2014). The program targets both aspects of working memory – storage and processing – concerning verbal and nonverbal working memory (Chacko et al., 2014). This means that the chosen training program is comprehensive and could potentially enhance children’s performance of a variety of tasks requiring working memory. The training is also tailored to children’s needs due to its game-like interface, which makes it easier for children to stay interested (Chacko et al., 2014). With regards to the difficulty of tasks, the CWMT uses a staircase-like design, where the difficulty increases with every completed task (Chacko et al., 2014). Overall, the design of the intervention allows suggesting that it could be useful in increasing working memory capacity, thus helping children with ADHD to stay focused and achieve goals.
The methodology of the study was a randomized clinical trial, which is considered to be reliable in terms of outcomes and conclusions. The researchers recruited a total of 85 participants, who were distributed into two groups: active and placebo (Chacko et al., 2014). Only the active group received the CWMT intervention, whereas the placebo group received a non-titrating, low-level version of CWMT which proved to be inefficient in previous studies (Chacko et al., 2014). The outcomes that were measured included working memory reported ADHD symptoms, academic achievement, and objective assessments of attention, impulse control, and activity level (Chacko et al., 2014). The methodology of the study is strong, and the number of participants is adequate to measure the effects of the program.
The study found significant improvements in working memory storage for children in the active group, but no differences in other outcomes were reported. This shows that the CWMT intervention is useful in increasing working memory capacity, but has little effect on the processing and manipulation of data stored in working memory. The findings were delivered in a quantitative form after statistical analysis, which means that they are fairly definite and cannot be interpreted in any other way. The main strengths of the study are its methodology and the use of a well-designed training model. The weaknesses of the study are the unequal training time, with longer sessions for CMWT Active group, and the short time interval between the study and follow-up evaluations. It would have been beneficial to check the participants’ progress after several months or even a year to understand the impact of CMWT on their academic performance, ADHD symptoms, and other long-term outcomes.
Jungle Memory (JM) training program for working memory in children has also received significant attention in research. This intervention is similar to CWMT because it is a web-based, game-like intervention addressing multiple aspects of working memory (Nelwan & Kroesbergen, 2016). Additionally, the program incorporates feedback throughout and after the program, which could be motivational for students. There are three games included in the intervention: “Game 1 (Quicksand) involves memory for and later use of word endings, Game 2 (Code Breaker) features mental rotation of letters, and Game 3 (River Crossing) involves sequential memory of mathematical solutions” (Nelwan & Kroesbergen, 2016, p. 1387). The researchers tested the student’s performance in working memory and mathematics following an 8-week program consisting of two combinations of Jungle Memory and mathematics training or mathematics training only.
The methodology was a randomized controlled trial, and the sample size included 64 participants aged 9 to 12 years. They were divided into three groups, one of which was the control group that did not receive any JM training. The results were analyzed using Bayesian evaluation and statistic analysis, and outcomes in working memory and math test performance were evaluated (Nelwan & Kroesbergen, 2016). The study showed JM training to be effective in improving verbal working memory in the short term, as well as in enhancing math test performance (Nelwan & Kroesbergen, 2016). The strengths of the study were the use of a JM training model, which proved to be effective in prior studies, and the use of a randomized controlled trial methodology. The authors also obtained approval from an ethical board, which means that the design was ethical and without significant gaps. Nevertheless, researchers encountered some practical challenges, which resulted in major limitations. These were interruptions during the program, decreased training compliance, and the inclusion of students from different schools. Due to these shortcomings, it is possible that the positive effects of the intervention were caused by other factors, and the results are not definitive.
Working Memory Training Software
A study by Fahimi, Arjmandnia, and Fathabadi (2014) used a new tool called Working Memory Training Software (WMTS) and measured its effect on the working memory of primary school students. WMTS is a computerized program involving two games targeting verbal and visuospatial working memory (Fahimi et al., 2014). The intervention involved 10 sessions using WMTS, with pre-test and post-test outcomes of working memory measured based on the Tehran-Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Fahimi et al., 2014).
The methodology was a quasi-experimental pre-and post-test design, which is a weakness of the study due to the absence of a control group and poor control over factors that could have contributed to the results. Strengths of the study involve the sample, which consisted of students with a low age range who studied in the same school, and the proven validity and reliability of the intervention and evaluation measures. The outcomes showed significant improvements in both visuospatial and verbal aspects of working memory for all children who participated in the intervention. However, due to the limitations of the study, the results could be due to external factors influencing children’s performance.
Adaptive Working Memory Training
The final intervention that will be considered in the report is the adaptive working memory training (AWMT) program, which is largely based on the famous Braintwister WM training battery (Karbach, Strobach, & Schubert, 2015). The intervention was delivered to 28 elementary school students aged 7-9 years and involved 14 training sessions with either an active training model or a placebo. The authors used a randomized controlled trial methodology which is a strength of the study due to the increased validity of the results. The design complied with ethical standards and requirements, thus reducing the possibility of bias (Karbach et al., 2015). This is also a strength of the study since only one other study obtained ethical approval.
The Active AWMT program involved two computerized training tasks, adapted to each student’s performance level and related to visuospatial working memory maintenance and recall (Karbach et al., 2015). In the control group, the intervention was not adapted to individual performance levels and included only tasks with a reduced number of images and a low difficulty level. The study measured 5 separate outcomes before, after the study, and at three months: reading ability, mathematical ability, working memory, task switching, and inhibitory control (Karbach et al., 2015). The inclusion of inhibitory control as the outcome measure is important because improved working memory may lead to greater self-control, reflected in attention control. Each of the outcomes was measured using either curriculum-based tests or tools specifically designed for the intervention. This is a weakness of the study because tests with unproven validity and reliability could lead to false or biased results.
The results reported by the authors for the active group include increased scores in working memory and reading tests, and these benefits were maintained by the subjects at three months following the intervention (Karbach et al., 2015). Inhibition control, math test performance, and task switching were not significantly affected by the training. Given the strengths and limitations of the study, it is possible to say that these results are definitive since the use of a control group enabled the authors to assess differences in performance. However, the results would have been more reliable if the researchers used assessment tools with proven validity and reliability.
Synthesis and Implications
The studies analyzed as part of the report considered the effect of various types of training on different aspects of working memory. Most of them examined visuospatial and verbal working memory, which is probably based on the structure of the working memory model, which involves both a phonological loop and a visuospatial sketchpad. Hence, the studies can contribute to practice and research in psychology and education by providing information on effective and ineffective working memory training models. Based on the literature review, all of the methods considered in research can be used to enhance verbal or visuospatial working memory, although the Jungle Memory training model and AWMT were the most effective. Teachers who work with poorly performing students can use these methods to improve children’s performance in reading, math, and visual tasks.
All of the studies focused on children rather than adolescents, and even among research articles that were not included, there are few working memory training studies available that target adolescents specifically. This is a critical gap that should be addressed in future research because many adolescents with learning difficulties or ADHD would also benefit from working memory training. Another shortcoming was that there were no randomized controlled trials that tested the comparative effectiveness of different working memory models. This gap should also be addressed in future research by designing methodologies comparing two or more interventions.
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The information presented in the studies links to the knowledge obtained from class, particularly with regards to working memory and its impact on learning. This is because most results showed a correlation between improvements in children’s working memory and their performance in various tasks. Since I am interested in working with children and adolescents who experience learning difficulties, the studies also relate to my future practice and research. I believe that conducting more research on working memory improvement at different ages can help to enhance children’s and adolescents’ academic outcomes, leading to increased quality of education on a national level.
Chacko, A., Bedard, A. C., Marks, D. J., Feirsen, N., Uderman, J. Z., Chimiklis, A.,… Ramon, M. (2014). A randomized clinical trial of Cogmed working memory training in school‐age children with ADHD: A replication in a diverse sample using a control condition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(3), 247-255.
Cowan, N. (2014). Working memory underpins cognitive development, learning, and education. Educational Psychology Review, 26(2), 197-223.
Engle, R. W., & Kane, M. J. (2004). Executive attention, working memory capacity, and a two-factor theory of cognitive control. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 44, 145-199.
Fahimi, M., Arjmandnia, A. A., & Fathabadi, J. (2014). Investigating the efficacy of “Working Memory Training Software” on students working memory. Health, 6(16), 2236-2244.
Karbach, J., Strobach, T., & Schubert, T. (2015). Adaptive working-memory training benefits reading, but not mathematics in middle childhood. Child Neuropsychology, 21(3), 285-301.
Nelwan, M., & Kroesbergen, E. H. (2016). Limited near and far transfer effects of jungle memory working memory training on learning mathematics in children with attentional and mathematical difficulties. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1384-1393.