In our Digital Literacy seminar, we investigated the importance of memory within an individual’s learning process. Now, memory and learning are very closely related and can be confused as the same thing. They are separate entities but they both depend on each other to an extent. For example, learning depends on memory in that the knowledge stored in your memory acts as a basis for you to link new knowledge to via association. Conversely, memory depends on learning by letting you store and retrieve the information you learn so that it is accessible when it is needed to be applied to a situation. Another difference is the speed at which both take place. If you take on the knowledge slowly and considerately that’s tilted towards learning, whilst if you acquire it instantly that’s a memory and it requires attention, rehearsal and encoding to work its way into the more permanent long term memory.
Having established a link we looked at some cognitive architectures, starting with Atkinson and Shiffrin’s Modal model. This consists of a sensory memory, whereby we use our senses to pick up information that passes all around us in the world e.g. seeing people walk by, hearing a car horn. Because we deem this information as unnecessary and meaningless it doesn’t have any impact and is not attended to, therefore it’s lost from our memory. The majority of stimuli we encounter in our daily lives goes through this avenue. However stimuli that we pay attention to, such as things we are motivated to learn or significant events will proceed into the Short term memory, where it’s said there is a capacity of 7 + or – 2 items of knowledge. How you would define an ‘item’ of knowledge I’m not quite sure though and frankly there is a greater flexibility across people’s memories than these numbers suggest. The research carried out to come to this conclusion perhaps had a restricted sample size. When information is sent here, it needs to be continually rehearsed for it to stay there and not be lost. As this happens, the brain encodes it further by attaching semantic encoding to it, where it has particular meaning within a context and it moves towards the Long term memory. Information within here is that which should be available for retrieval whenever it’s called upon. Significant events would be in here, perhaps by bypassing the STM straight to the LTM such was their impact on the thinking and emotions of the individual. Although an unpleasant topic, the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I remember exactly what I was doing and where I was to, such was the effect of that, so that information has gone into my LTM and stayed there. The drawback of information being in the LTM is it’s maybe not practiced enough and therefore some parts could be lost over time.
Another model is Baddeley and Hitch’s Working memory model, consisting of the overarching Central Executive controlling how we apply what’s learnt and to do with problem solving: the phonological loop which is verbal, written and logical issues and things to do with the left side of the brain: and then finally the Visuo-Spatial Sketchpad, which uses imagery to paint pictures of memories and deals with one’s perception of spatial awareness, something children particularly struggle with early on. Imagery uses the creative side (right) of the brain to place meaning to sensory memories, such as placing them in an environmental context or through the association of locations. Going back to the problem solving, which is a significant factor of explorative and effective learning, it’s based on drawing on knowledge previously gathered from the LTM to put together sequentially to tackle a problem. For example, I could not do a maths sharing problem if I didn’t have basic operational skills, such as division. The working model is seen as a replacement for the STM component of the modal model, with the stimulus coming into it being in different formats, like I’ve explained but the LTM knowledge is needed to help with the problem solving aspect so this is a potential flaw using the example of the problem solving process to highlight an inconsistency in this model.
Reflecting on the title of this post, I’m sure we’ve all cursed ourselves at some point when we have failed to recall something important, whether it be during a conversation or an exam question. This can be quite frustrating but put simply the more times you practice something and make sense of it so that you are processing meaningful knowledge, the more likely it is to pass through the sensory register stage to be remembered when you need it. Which is why those who make a conscious effort to go over and over information, present it in a way which is useful for them and make meaning of it, often remember a lot more than those who don’t. After all, our brains are unlimited in the knowledge they can acquire, really they are wasted!
Next post will be on the intrinsic motivation versus Skinner’s behaviourism theory in learning.