The Limits of Working Memory and Training Effectiveness

In this fascinating blog post from Patti Shank on the ATD site, she discusses the reasons we can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to training.

Aside from the typical learning styles excuse, Patti explores an interesting point related to neuroscience: knowledge and experience dictates the way we can present the content and further impacts the way the learner is able to work with it. The crux of the difference is working memory vs. long term memory. 

When newbies are learning a topic, everything they “know” is in working memory – and they are paddling madly to keep processing and applying that information to the learning process. But when a more knowledgeable or more experienced employee has long-term memory associated with a topic, we can work with that topic in deeper and more meaningful ways for the learner.

This chart is an excellent comparison of working memory approaches to training vs. long term memory approaches.  This chart may cause you to rethink your training designs altogether.