Skip to content

1 February: Memory

2 February 2011

Here is the presentation from the session, annotated and slightly edited:

The principal links to expand a little on the basic material are:

As we are now getting used to, the Reading Groups also came up with interesting angles, among them;

  • the role of repetition in committing material to memory (which Paul G illustrated with his tour de force of remembering the number sequence, and his account of how he did it).
  • Critically, the importance of establishing associations if material is being committed to memory. Those may involve locating the memorised material in a context (physical, experiential, a story) establishing arbitrary connections in imagination (we talked about techniques for memorisation including mnemonics –and imposing patterns and structure, such as here.
  • Ausubel (1968) writing in the context of “reception learning” (as opposed to rote learning or discovery learning) in schools, maintains that “the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.”
    (see here.)
  • There was also some  discussion of the relationship between physical activity and memory, which led on to a brief discussion of “Brain Gym”. We couldn’t pursue that too far; see Goldacre on “Bad Science” on the reading list, but also this page on innovations. I did not wish to deny that novel ideas work, but to warn against the trap of believing that just because something good happens after an innovation, it was the innovation which was directly responsible. (The post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy; B happens after A, therefore A must cause B. It is notoriously prevalent in education and one of the biggest obstacles to effective research in the area>)
  • While we are on myths, mention was made of the Learning Pyramid from NTL; for a discussion of that and of Mehrabian, see here.
  • We didn’t really get into the computer analogy and its strengths and limitations, though; although that did come up again in the brief mention of eidetic memory.
  • With particular reference to skill acquisition, there was also the matter of getting to the stage–through practice, of course–where performance is “second nature”, where it takes more effort to get something wrong rather than to get it right. That is briefly touched on here.


Pink: the role of anecdotes and analogies when teaching technical material. Do they work and if so how?

I think the groups started to answer that question; it’s all about establishing the relevance and connectedness of the material. Analogies may be limited but they can make aspects of new material clearer by making them more familiar, and anecdotes root ideas and phenomena in real life. Teaching is continually moving between the concrete and the abstract (see here) and as we saw in the discussion of Bateson last week, and to a certain extent when I lost some of you in looking at assimilation and accommodation this week, it is difficult to sustain thinking about abstract principles.

To an extent that comes up again in the other pink note, a request for examples of good practice in aiding retention. To some extent it is answered by some of the ideas on the blue post-its, but there is one major point we did not discuss; which is the role of testing. There’s a good article on this from Scientific American Mind here, but unfortunately it’s behind a paywall and the University is not a subscriber, at least not electronically.

Blue notes: a propos the previous para.–concentrating on ways to relate content together to aid learning and recall, so that one thing is linked to another. Another note mentioned this in terms of numeracy–connecting the four arithmetical operations, rather than dealing with them in isolation.

Again, “linking learning to something meaningful in the students’ lives” And–something not mentioned in the notes above but nonetheless discussed in the class–distributing similar items of learning so that old and new learnt material don’t interfere with each other.


AUSUBEL D P (1968) Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston (I think–from memory–that the quotation is on page 168.)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: