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By Jan Kuyper Erland
Mem-ExSpan, Inc.

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This Article was Published by Both the National
and the Local Kansas City Chapter
of The American Society for Training and Development

Although we have the capacity to understand information, often, our processing of the information may be inaccurate or incomplete. We process information in a myriad of different ways, primarily through visual and auditory avenues. In order to understand complex, technical information easily, both avenues must function at peak levels in tandem.

Unfortunately, few of us have this smooth working mental machine. The visual is often out of sync from the auditory. If one of these two modalities is stronger, or works faster than the other, you experience information overload.

Recently, I administered a battery of cognitive skills tests to a group of systems engineers, office administrators, and managers for a software development company. It was interesting that the office administrators and managers, in general, scored higher with visual and listening in-sync compatibility than the systems engineers. However, I identified one sales manager with a severe visual processing weakness. Somehow, he had learned to compensate.

Several systems engineers had low listening processing ability, which would affect their inter-personal communication skill. Many of the engineers' visual out-raced their auditory memory span systems because they heavily rely on visual computer work. The office administrators and sales managers use their visual and listening inter-communication skills more often. This cadre of highly intelligent people demonstrates that we each have our own profile of mental strengths and weaknesses. These profiles often reflect the demands of our jobs.

Inefficient information processing can entrap us. When we can not quickly process complex technical information, we live with frustration and work slowly on a project. We may even make many detail errors. It may be difficult to learn new, technical software programs.

An average visual or listening memory span for a series of words or symbols is five units (i.e. five words, five numbers, or codes). This series of items is called your "memory span." It reflects the length and strength of your visual and listening memories.

You can check your visual and listening spans with the exercises below. Remembering more than five numbers or items makes you above average or superior. If you are on a three or four span, you are below average, or may even have a deficit. In the following exercises, begin with a three span, and move incrementally upward. Once you are at a seven span, you can make up your own series, gradually moving up to ten spans.

Listening Memory Self-Check:

Work with a partner to make it a game, or use a tape recorder to verify what you say. State the following series of words, beginning with the four span. If you have a partner, the partner follows the script and prompts or corrects you. Using a tape recorder, orally read the entire series set into the recorder, leaving a few seconds blank after each string of words. Play back, listen, and repeat the series, recording your reply onto the blank section of the tape. When finished, play back and compare the two sets to check if you said the series correctly.

Begin at your comfort zone, either four or five spans, and gradually work up a level like you would increase your weights in a workout regimen. Remain at your present level for two weeks, then move up to the next level.

Easy four spans of non-related, one-syllable words:

  1. cat, walk, sky, born
  2. look, one, faith, work
  3. soap, weak, none, why

More difficult four spans, two-syllable words:

  1. baby, happy, today, placate
  2. boxer, using, rider, control

Easy five spans of non-related, one-syllable words:

  1. toe, steak, late, place, fort
  2. joke, maze, fork, light, hat

Now, create your own list and record or repeat with your partner. Use a dictionary to check syllabication length.

More difficult five span, two-syllable words:

  1. create, paper, nothing, achieve, bother
  2. heavy, beauty, color, maybe, quickly
  3. working, baby, cuisine, given, peeling

After performing these tests, you have an idea of your listening short-term memory spans, which indicate how effectively you process auditory information. If you remember more than five spans, you have an above average visual or listening memory span. Remembering only three or four spans is below-average performance and may indicate a deficit. Daily practice will help increase your abilities.

You have begun your new, mental workout regimen! Practice daily, or whenever you can - in your car in traffic, or while you wait for someone. There is always dead time to use productively.

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Jan Kuyper Erland, M. S. Program Content Developer, Intervention Consultant
Mem-ExSpan, Inc.
The Bridge To Achievement ®