CCCH-led research into working memory and learning has been awarded ’10 of the Best’ for 2016 by NHRMC.
‘Ten of the Best’ describes ten Australian health and medical research projects chosen from among the thousands of NHMRC funded medical research projects underway in Australia. Read NHMRC’s story on Memory Maestros – Achieving in the Classroom.
Memory Maestros studied working memory – the ability to hold and use information just long enough to do a task, like remembering a phone number until you dial it.
The Memory Maestros study asked two main questions:
- How important is working memory for learning, and how stable is it over time?
- Does a 5-week program of daily computerised games improve working memory, and does this actually help learning?
A pilot was conducted in two schools from August to December 2010. A large randomised controlled trial (RCT) was then carried out in 45 schools from February 2012 to June 2015. The RCT was funded by an NHMRC project grant.
The RCT consisted of three stages:
- Stage 1 (screening). All Grade 1 children at participating schools were offered a working memory assessment. Around 1700 Grade 1 children in 44 schools across Melbourne joined Stage 1 in 2012.
- Stage 2 (intervention). Children with the poorest working memory skills (scores in the lowest 25% on the screening test) were invited into the new trial. They were randomly assigned into either the intervention or the ‘usual care’ group. A researcher visited each intervention child’s school over a five week period to work with the intervention children (in groups of 2 to 4) using a computer-based program that aims to increase the child’s working memory capacity. The intervention period was for around 30 minutes per day for up to 25 sessions.
- Stage 3 (follow-up). Each child’s academic achievement, working memory, IQ, and heath care costs was assessed. This occurred at 6, 12 and 24 months after the study commenced. Face-to-face assessments with the children as well as parent and teacher surveys were used in this stage.
The program used in the Memory Maestros study was called CogMed. This program has been previously used in small studies with healthy children and children with attention problems. CogMed is like a computer game – children usually have fun, because it doesn’t feel like ‘work’. The computer game has a fun ‘robot’ theme. The games involve items (such as numbers, letters and asteroids) lighting up on the screen in a sequence which the child is asked to repeat. The games automatically get harder as working memory gets better. This happens in very small steps. This means children are always working just at their limit, but can still do the tasks successfully.
Findings from the RCT showed that working memory training did not result in longer term benefits for children’s learning, working memory or behaviour outcomes.
‘Unfortunately, six month gains in short-term and working memory largely disappeared by one year and did not translate into academic benefits at two years.’
Find out more
Read NHMRC’s story on Memory Maestros – Achieving in the Classroom