Working memory refers to the ability to keep information in your mind for a short period of time while you 'manipulate' or work with it. It acts as a 'mental notepad' to help us store important information to carry out tasks.
Working memory is different from short term memory. Short term memory involves storing information for a short period of time (seconds) and then repeating it. For example, we use short term memory when we hear and repeat a telephone number. Working memory on the other hand involves storing and manipulating the information to reach a goal (incorporates short term memory and executive functions). For example, doing mental arithmetic involves hearing or reading the numbers, holding them in the mind and then adding them to get the answer.
In the classroom and workplace, strong working memory skills are needed to stay focused, ignore distractions, remember and carry out instructions, and for complex reasoning and problem solving. Working memory is also related to academic achievement in the domains of reading comprehension, writing, maths and science.
It is estimated that about 10-15% of school aged children have working memory problems, but these are often misidentified as deficits of attention and/or intelligence (Holmes et al 2009). Impairments of working memory are also found within a wide range of individuals who experience specific attention deficits such as those with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities (including dyslexia), acquired brain injuries, Asperger's Syndrome, and Down's Syndrome.