Long-Term Memory vs. Working Memory
Flavia Belham
Chief Scientist @ Seneca Learning
October 08, 2018

Long-Term Memory vs. Working Memory

Memory is not a single system. We have multiple types of memory with different characteristics. Understanding how memory works improves our understanding of how learning works.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is usually what people refer to when they are talking about memories. Long-term memory is our storage system. It has unlimited capacity, no expiry date and is formed by several sub-types.

Non-Declarative Memory

One sub-type is non-declarative memory (or implicit memory). These are memories we access without conscious awareness. They are usually created with practice and are retrieved automatically. A few examples are knowing how to ride a bike or swim

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Declarative Memory

Another sub-type of long-term memory is declarative memory (or explicit memory). Information stored here can be accessed consciously - we can think and talk about this knowledge in words. There are two sub-sub-types of declarative memories: Semantic and Episodic.

Semantic memory is the one for facts about the world and meaning of words. We are usually taught about them. Some examples are knowing what triggered the First World War and the meaning of the word “carbohydrates”. Episodic memory is the one storing our own experiences and the episodes we have lived. We can usually recall “when what and where”. Some examples are remembering your first day as a teacher and what you had for dinner last night.

Working Memory

Declarative and nondeclarative memory are both parts of our Long-Term Memory system. A different system is Working Memory, which is used to keep information in mind while we manipulate and use this information to complete a task. The main characteristics of working memory are that it manipulates information, has limited capacity and holds information only as long as it is being used. Working memory is where thought takes place.

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