Thursday, August 28, 2008

Learning & Memory - Making it more effective

Learning and memory take place in three stages. The first stage is the sensory stage. In this stage, information is retained very briefly, less than one second. It is retained just long enough for us to develop a perception about the information.

The second stage involves the short term memory. It lasts about 30 seconds if we don’t rehearse the information we have just received. However, it is very limited. We will hold things in short term memory for only as long as we recite it in our minds. It is also limited to about seven items at a time. We can increase our short term memory by “chunking” information into units of items with no more than seven items per unit and limiting the number of units to seven. That is how phone numbers are organized. They are given three units with three to four numbers each such as 818-555-4444.

Where short term memory can be considered as the RAM of a CPU. Long term memory can be considered the hard drive. It is believed that long term memory is permanent. Everything that goes into the long term memory is considered stored forever. However, we may actually lose our ability to locate that information.

Even though long term memory is permanent, it may not be accurate. Over time and very slowly, our memory changes. You might consider tiny bits of information falling out over time and then being replaced by other bits. Over time, we believe we have an accurate memory when in reality it has changed slowly over time. To test out this theory, just ask any adult about a shared childhood experience with a sibling. More than likely, they will both have a different memory of the exact same experience and they will both staunchly believe that they their own memory is right. And to each of them it is. This is a simple demonstration of how memory can change over time.

The most important part of dropping information into long term memory is to be optimistic about learning. Give yourself positive self-talk about remembering the topic. You must also have the intention to remember something if you are going to place it effectively into long term memory.

If you are studying to learn a subject or to take an exam it is important that you only study for 50 minutes to an hour and then take a ten minute break. The break is essential for dropping the information into the long term memory. During that 10 minute break do something completely different. Relax, talk on the phone, listen to some music or go for a walk.

When you come back from your break, review the information that have just studied for a minute or two then go onto the new information you want to learn.

The brain can hold an infinite amount of information and knowledge. In fact, the more you learn the easier it is to learn even more.

We are able to place information more easily in long term memory when we attach new information to previously learned information. Long term memory works better if material is repeatedly gone over, over a long period.

When studying from a book, spend an hour reading while highlighting in different inks and taking notes in the margins of the book. We remember whatever stands out. So, make your notes colorful and scribble notes in the margins. After an hour, remember to take a 10 to 15 minute break. The breaks are as important as the study time.

It is also helpful to break information down into smaller, more manageable sections. Remember, short term memory can only hold up to seven units at a time. If it doesn’t pass through short term memory, it won’t pass through to long term memory.

Try using Acronyms so that you can remember groups of words together such as NBA for National Basketball Association, SCUBA for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, etc.

It is also important to be relaxed when you study. If you are anxious, you cannot hold as much information in short term memory.

For more information on Dr. Walton log onto or for more information on his self-help downloads, and to listen to free samples, log onto The Dr. Walton Series.

No comments: