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IES Grant

Title: Application of the Dual-Component Theory to Adaptive Working Memory Training
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Gibson, Bradley Awardee: University of Notre Dame
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2017) Award Amount: $886,847
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A150305
Description:

Purpose: The ability to meet benchmark standards in core academic subjects such as reading and math is limited by a student's working memory (WM) capacity. This research seeks to explore the effects of a novel training regimen that can target and enhance both the attention and memory components of WM capacity on student education outcomes. According to the dual-component theory of WM, there are two critical components of WM capacity—an attention component and a memory component—that account for the relation between WM capacity and higher-level cognitive abilities. Several adaptive training regimens have attempted to improve student outcomes in reasoning and learning by increasing WM capacity, but have been ineffective, possibly because they did not target the proper WM components. The aims of this project are to 1) identify the training parameters that can lead to changes in both the attention and memory components of WM capacity and 2) determine how improvements in WM capacity can lead to improvements in student reasoning and learning for middle school students.

Project Activities: The research team will employ a between-subjects experimental design to compare three WM training conditions: a two-component training condition that targets both the attention and memory components; a one-component training condition that targets only the attention component; and a zero-component training condition (i.e., the control condition). In each of the two years of the project, a cohort of students will be randomly assigned to conditions. All students will be given pre-tests, will go through their assigned training condition, and then will complete immediate and six-month follow-up post-tests. At the end of Year 2, the research team will analyze the data and disseminate the findings of the study.

Products: This research will provide evidence of the potential for WM capacity to be a malleable factor associated with student learning as well as peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Participating middle schools will be located in a suburban area of Indiana. WM training will be implemented online and assessments will be administered in the laboratory at a suburban university in Indiana.

Sample: Participants will be approximately 168 students (aged 11–14 years) in sixth through eighth grade. Students with a range of WM abilities and mixed racial and ethnic groups will be included (15% African-American, 6% Hispanic, 2% Asian and 82% Caucasian).

Intervention: The goals of this project are to determine if WM capacity is a malleable factor that can be improved by training as well as to identify the components of an adaptive training regimen that are needed to improve WM capacity. To address this, the research team will compare three WM training conditions: a two-component training condition that targets both the attention and memory components; a one-component training condition that targets only the attention component; and a zero-component training condition (i.e., the control condition). The major difference between conditions is the length of the span (i.e., the number of items to recall) and how that length is determined. These findings have the potential to inform the development of interventions to target WM capacity as well as to identify pre-existing WM interventions that may be promising for improving student education outcomes.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will employ a between-subjects experimental design to compare the three WM training conditions. In all conditions, students will be given both verbal and spatial simple span exercises (e.g., remembering the correct forward serial order of letters and digits). Data collection will occur in two cohorts, one during each project year. For each cohort, the following procedure will be used. First, participants will be given pre-tests to assess WM capacity, fluid reasoning abilities, and reading and math skills and will be randomly assigned to one of the conditions. Next, all participants will be given access to the online training program specific to their condition and will be asked to complete 25 days of WM training using the online system within six weeks. Each session will take approximately 45 minutes to complete. After completing the training, participants will be given immediate as well as six-month follow-up post-tests that will assess the same set of skills as the pre-tests.

Control Condition: The proposed study will use an active control condition (the zero-component training regimen), which is identical to the two active training conditions, except that the intensity of the training will not adapt to the student's ability level.

Key Measures: Researchers will measure WM capacity using the Verbal and Spatial Immediate Free Recall task and the Verbal and Spatial Delayed Free Recall task. Fluid IQ will be measured using Educational Testing Service's Inference and Nonsense Syllogisms and Surface Development and Paper Folding tests, Raven's Advanced Matrices, and Bochum Matrices–Advanced Short Version. Reading and math achievement will be measured using the Measures of Academic Progress Assessment of Reading and Math Achievement.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will assess training effects using a two-way, mixed Analysis of Covariance conducted on each of the outcome measures, with training condition as the between-groups factor and post-training time (immediate versus six-month follow-up) as the within-subjects factor. Pre-tests will be used as a covariate. Other factors (such as assessment group or school, will be included as covariates, but will be dropped if they do not influence the effect of training.

Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Ralph, K.J., Gibson, B.S., Gondoli, D.M., Sztybel, P., Pauszek, J.R., Miller, R.W., and Litzow, E. (in press). Targeting the Three Stages of Retrieval from Secondary Memory in a Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Working Memory Training Study. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.


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