Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Memorization in learning

Last Monday we had a free flow discussion on various topics related to the role of memorization in learning. We started from the article “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping“ (see previous post). To begin with, everyone agreed that memorization is an important element of learning, but it is one of the most basic levels, not the most important by itself, and usually not the ultimate goal of the learning process.

Our discussion then dug into what factors and conditions affect memorization and retention of information, including:

  • Learning styles (e.g. taking in content visually, auditorily, kinesthetically…keeping in mind that we can think of learning styles either as “genetic” or learned, depending on where you stand in the learning style debate)
  • Space and surroundings (e.g. there is some evidence that changing the place where you study helps memorizing)
  • Emotional state (what level of tress makes you more alert? Do scary tests help you memorize and recall better? Is fear of grades a good motivator? Or shall we use different “brain activation” strategies, such as the wider contribution you get from writing a public wiki, or getting challenged by peer critique)
  • Timing (e.g. studying in short bursts vs. long sessions, cramming in one week vs. spreading the learning process over several months…short bursts seem more useful for long-term retention than cramming, who would have known)

We also briefly talked about the importance of developing an appropriate vocabulary for a discipline, which is often done through a lot of memorization, not necessarily linked to the actual topic you aim to understand. For example, often math classes are meant to provide the language you need to understand physics, and ballet dancers repeat lots of pliés. How would your understanding of physics be different without that formal vocabulary? (and is that language sometimes in the way of understanding concepts?)

As always, there is so much more to this than a 1-hour discussion, so if you are interested in digging deeper, pick a topic and lead a session in spring!

(image is from here)

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