These notes are part of a series for the book.
- Memory in and out
- Types of memory
- Repetition and memory
Encoding and retrieval
Sensory memory is fleeting memory of information discovered via your senses, which moves to short-term memory if you pay attention to it. Habituation is what happens when you no longer notice something picked up in sensory memory because it’s ongoing. For example, you may not notice the feel of your watch on your wrist, or the sound of your refrigerator, or even banner ads on websites. From an instructional design perspective:
- Take advantage of habituation by using a consistent layout in your learning material so the learners don’t need to spend time figuring it out.
- Don’t be too consistent, because you don’t want learners to miss something important by just skimming or clicking through too quickly.
- Don’t be too inconsistent just to grab attention because that’s annoying.
Working memory is memory that is in a working area while you take action on it. You discard these memories shortly after acting on them. For example, you may hear the weather report, stock market averages, or sports scores every day, but you only remember it if it’s unusual or important to you. Even then, you are likely to remember it for only a period of time unless it was highly unusual or important.
Common wisdom is that we can keep 7 (plus or minus 2) items in our working memory at a time, but it’s more complicated than that. Dirksen gives these examples to explain:
- 6718 is an easy series of numbers to remember.
- 934871625 is much harder to remember, and you are likely to remember the first and last numbers while forgetting the middle ones.
- 100 500 800 has the same number of digits as the previous example, but it’s easier to remember because the digits are chucked into groups of three digits each. Chunking helps the learner organize a set of information or series of steps so they can focus on each group one at a time.
- 123456789 is also the same number of digits, but even easier to remember because you know the sequence.
- 512 651 763 952 is harder for most people to remember, but people who live in Minneapolis will find it easier because these are area codes for that city.
Long-term memories are memories that you keep. You add one or more tags to information as you store it: this is called encoding. Encoding helps you find the information later. The more tags you are able to add to information, the more likely you can retrieve it (or, remember it) later. From an instructional design perspective:
- Provide context to help the learner encode a memory.
- Provide organizing details to help give structure to the encoding.
- Make the training environment as similar as possible to the environment where the learner will retrieve the new information, so that the environment becomes part of the encoding and makes it easier for the learner to retrieve the memory in a similar setting. This includes the room, the tools, the emotional context, and how the learner will retrieve the information. Use:
- Realistic scenarios
- Hands-on tasks
- Training in real setting
- Realistic pressure, such as time limits
- Learning activities that practice retrieving information in the same way it will be retrieved in the future, with practice involving recall or application and assessments that are high-context
- Practice retrieving information, not simply recognizing information, if that’s what the learner must do after training
- Job aids that learners can use while practicing
Types of memory
Explicit memories are the things you can articulate knowing. Implicit memories are the things you know but you can’t talk about in a meaningful way.
Declarative (or semantic) memory are the things you can state: facts, principles, and ideas. Episodic memory is a type of declarative memory. It’s when you can relay a story about specific events in your life. The author uses dogs as an example: You can state facts about dogs (they have four legs and fur) and that’s declarative memory. You also may be able to tell a story about a dog you had, a neighbors dog, a scary dog you encountered, etc., and that’s episodic memory. One reason storytelling works is because it makes use of episodic memory.
Conditioned memory (or conditioned responses) are implicit memories. That is, it’s information stored in our brains but not something we can easily articulate. For example, after practice playing a video game, how to use the buttons on a controller become conditioned memory.
Procedural memories are the step-by-step procedures for doing something.Procedural memory can be explicit or implicit. For example, if you know how to drive somewhere but can’t tell someone the step-by-step directions, or if you know a phone number but need to pretend to tap a keypad to state the number then those are procedural memories that are implicit.
- When you learned how to drive a car, you had to spend a lot of energy thinking through every decision. At that time, your driving memories were fairly explicit. Over time, with overlearning (practicing many, many times) the memories became implicit and you could no longer readily explain all the actions and decisions you take and make while driving.
- It’s very hard to help other people learn something you know implicitly.
Flashbulb: Something happens when memories are stored during times of high emotions. For example, people can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when JFK was shot, or when the Twin Towers were hit during 9-11, or when they learned that Pearl Harbor was bombed. This probably evolved as a survival technique. The instructional designer can draw much more lightly from this by using emotion to improve memory of facts.
When you learn something new, you make connections that are reinforced with repetition. That’s why most learning requires practice. From an instructional design perspective:
- Provide multiple exposure to the same information, but resist monotonous repetition that people will ignore.
- Resist memorization because it does not increase the number of tags (or encoding); memorization just reinforces the same limited encoding without making new connections.