Carl Wieman on Effective Teaching
“Memory is not talked about much in education, but it is critically important,” Wieman said, and the limited discussion that does occur focuses primarily on long-term memory while short-term working memory is ignored.
He compared the latter to a personal computer with limited RAM. “The more it is called upon to do, to remember, the harder it is to process. The average human brain [working memory] has a limit of five to six new items, it can’t handle anything more.”
A new item is anything that is not in the learner’s long-term memory, he continued. “Anything you can do to reduce unnecessary demands on working memory will improve learning.”
Among them is elimination of unnecessary jargon. Wieman asked: “That new jargon term that is so convenient to you, is it really worth using up 20% of the mental processing capacity of the students for that class period?” Demands of working memory can also be reduced by shifting some learning tasks, particularly transfer of simple information from the classroom to pre-reading assignments and homework.