7±2

A popular Urban Legend suggests that 7 digits (±2) is the average amount of information which can be stored for short-term use in working memory.  That’s 7 digits (±2), not a lot at all.

Think of the telephone numbers you know by heart.  Chances are you’ll break those numbers down to 2 or 3 chunks – a chunk of 5 and a chunk of 6 for instance.  Not many people recall telephone numbers as an 11 piece string; we chunk data for immediate access and use sophisticated associations (including visual and auditory cues) for transferring information to long-term memory as required.

7 digits ±2.  Like I said, it’s not a lot.  With words the situation gets tougher.  Evidence suggests that 5 words ±2 is more realistic; a useful rule of thumb being that we can remember (in the short-term) anything we hear which is 2 seconds or less in duration.  2 Seconds?  That’s really not a lot!

There are many useful models used in training and education.  I’ve found a good handful of models really worth remembering for ready use.  In the coming months I’ll detail some of my favoured models along with thoughts on their importance and application.  You’ll find that most of the models contain 5 elements (or less).  I’m a simple man with simple needs; 5±2 is plenty for me.  The process of learning need not be complex at all when we apply credible strategies, using proven models with forethought and a deliberate, passionate approach.

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One response to “7±2

  1. finiteattentionspan

    To be fair, this is more than urban legend: Miller’s original 1956 paper is here. But as per my other comment, I think he was being wildly optimistic.

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