The story goes that a reporter asked Albert Einstein for his phone number (no, this didn’t take place in a bar), and Einstein had to look it up in a phone directory. When the reporter expressed surprise that the twentieth-century’s greatest physicist didn’t know his own phone number, Einstein replied, “Never memorize what you can look up in a book.”
If there was any validity to Einstein’s comment when he said it many decades ago, then it’s even more valid now: Google lets me look up information much more quickly and easily than even the most nimble-fingered research librarian can find it in a book.
I recently ran two workshops on Creating Memorable Lectures and in preparing and running the workshops I have learned quite a bit, mostly from Richelle Monaghan who had ran this workshop in the past, which may be of possible interest to those who want to be remembered by their students long after their student-instructor contract has expired! There is a lot of research about memory and cognition and as educators it seems appropriate to be aware of what assists individuals with memory and recall. This also includes higher levels of conceptual understanding because fundamental knowledge needs to be accessible in order to use the information for levels such as analysis and synthesis.
One way to categorize memory is short-term versus long-term memory. Essentially you can think of your short term memory as a “supped-up” white board in your mind. We all know what a white board is….. but I say “supped-up” , so visualize a windshield wiper attachment on the bottom of the white board. All incoming information is put on your short-term memory white board (so to speak) but this information is not creating neural mechanisms in your brain for later recall. Just imagine that every 2-30 seconds (depending on the situation but the average is 18 seconds), the wiper will clear the information in your short-term memory!
The ONLY way in which you’ll have this information for later recall is if this information is “filed” so to speak in your long term memory. So picture yourself with a clipboard, actively selecting what information is important and/or meaning full for you to write down and file into filing cabinet. In my workshops, I covered a number of tools that could be used for moving the content from the whiteboard to your filing cabinets! The ones I found effective were the use of mnemonic, novelties, chunking, rehearsal and elaboration! I’d like to chat briefly here about “elaboration”.
Imagine that your spouse phones and asks if you can pick up 5 things from the grocery store on the way home. When you get off the phone, you simply review the list the way in which it was said to you over the phone “milk, carrots, bread, oranges, eggs”. This is called rehearsal or simply maintenance. Elaborative processing or rehearsal takes the form of attention to meaning. This attention to meaning is called deep processing. Many studies have shown that deep processing leads to good memory performance later on EVEN WITHOUT the intention of memorizing the target material. The intention to learn had no direct effect on performance; what matters instead is how someone engages or thinks about the material to be remembered.
So returning to the grocery list… Some people may prefer to categorize the food in terms of meals. For example they may view milk, bread, eggs and oranges as breakfast food…. some people may think more in colours with 3 white foods (milk, bread, eggs) 2 orange foods (carrots and oranges), …. or others may think of what those foods are for (Think of breakfast tomorrow and packing lunch for your son tomorrow). In any case, changing the grocery list to have meaning is called elaborative rehearsal and allows for deep processing and long-term memory recall. This was only one of the techniques I looked at and my intention here was to get you thinking about these techniques and hopefully you’ll look into them yourself and see which technique works best for the topics from your discipline!