Working Memory Underpins Cognitive Development, Learning, and Education

Nelson Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-223
Number of pages27
JournalEducational Psychology Review
Issue number2
Early online date3 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Working memory
  • Cognitive development
  • Learning
  • Education


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