Learning Goals for the memory unit:

  • Compare and contrast memory processes and types of memory
  • Explain causes of forgetting and general strategies for enhancing retrieval
  • Describe and apply five specific memory strategies

Three basic memory challenges

  • Focus: the human brain is not “wired” for multitasking. Effective learning requires undivided attention.
  • Duration: Our brain has an immense capacity to store information; but it also has a tendency to “forget” when the information is not stored properly of is “learned” with ineffective cues. For additional insights, please refer to Hermann Ebbinghaus  The Forgetting Curve Theory.
  • Capacity: our short term memory is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously. George Miller suggested the number seven as a “rule” of thumb, but new research suggests short-term memory is more limited than we thought.

Types of memory

Sensory memory

  • Involves our sensory registers; very big but short-lived storage system for raw info
  • Attention is the process of finding relevant info in that big stream of data
  • You can only pay attention to one cognitively demanding task at a time (the other task is on auto-pilot or done without full concentration)

Short term memory

  • When you direct attention to or perceive information, it moves from your sensory memory to your short-term memory (STM)
  • Two components of STM:
    • Immediate Memory – Related to the concept of consciousness or what you are currently thinking about; limited in retaining about 7 chunks of information (e.g., social security numbers)
    • Working Memory – The part of STM that is about using strategies; the part of STM that manipulates/works on info to help put it into LTM

Long-term memory

  • “Unlimited” capacity (but we don’t necessarily have unlimited power or capacity to think… think of it as a big hard drive with a limited, fully utilized processing chip)
  • Provides the context of prior knowledge that helps you interpret and encode new information
  • •nfo in LTM can be retrieved and transferred into working memory to be used again and again and again
  • To benefit from these processes, you must store your information in an efficient, organized manner so you can retrieve it later (say, on an exam) à this is accomplished through memory strategies

Problems that lead to forgetting

  • Failure to encode (i.e., never really learned it)
  • Failure to store in an organized, useful way (i.e., not understanding the information)
  • Cramming
  • Stored with too few cues
  • Interference (not enough distinction between closely related info)
  • Test Anxiety
  • All of the above may overlap – not necessarily distinct

5 groups of learning strategies

1. Rehearsal

  • These strategies involve practicing the material until it is learned.
  • Two types:
    • Low-Level Rehearsal: Used for simple, easy-to-recall tasks (e.g., spelling exams in high school) and involve reading material a few times, saying it over and over again, and copying it down multiple times
    • High-Level Rehearsal: Used for a large amount of complex, or difficult, information and may include techniques such as outlining, predicting test questions, explaining information in  your own words, making self-tests, or creating charts
  • Elaborative rehearsal – Repetition that involves making the information meaningful (more specific strategies in Ch. 10)
  • Research shows high-level rehearsal is more effective than low-level rehearsal

2. Elaboration

  • Involves expanding on the information, forming associations, or connecting new information to what you already know
  • Examples: Paraphrasing, summarizing, explaining, and creating/answering questions
  • Another good type of elaboration/memory strategy is connecting information to your own life or experience
  • When you personalize materials, it is easier to recall because your memory for personal information is strong

3. Organizational

  • Adding structure to make information easier to learn and recall
  • Listing, ordering, grouping, outlining, mapping, etc.
  • Restructuring the material provides you with new ways to remember it

4. Comprehension Monitoring

  • Allows you to monitor or keep tabs on your learning
  • Gaining feedback on the effectiveness of your study strategies and how well you are retaining the information saves you time and frustration
  • Helps you determine when learning or understanding breaks down
    • Ie. Asking self summary questions while reading
    • Ie. Writing questions to practice answering later
    • Ie. Developing and taking practice tests

5. Affective and Emotional

  • Attitude – improve your attitude or interest in the material by giving yourself a purpose in studying it
  • Monitoring your learning – Recite information and test your memory; if you can remember information, this will make you feel good and know you are learning
  • Your state of mind during an exam – This can greatly affect your performance on an exam; knowing you are prepared for an exam reduces (even may eliminate) test anxiety

Additional resources

Refer to my articles about the researched-based Top Ten Study Strategies Ranked and the one about Practicing retrieval.

And here’s a list of memory tips from our Van Blerkom textbook:

Some articles about the effect of exercise on memory and learning:

This short video from UC San Diego provides practical examples of how to implement retrieval strategies: