Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maximizing Memory (and Learning)

Memory formation is a byproduct of other cognitive processes, explains Dr. Lila Devachi (2008) of NYU’s Centers for Neural Science and Brain Imaging. We cannot say to ourselves, “Okay, I’m now going to make a memory,” and then turn on THE memory-making brain function. However, we can engage the cognitive processes that construct memory as a “byproduct.”

Dr. Devachi lists six such cognitive processes:
  1. attention: focused attention increases activity in the hippocampus, a brain structure in which increased activation correlates with memory formation
  2. working with information: engaging in QUALITY processing (vs. mere quantity) of new material increases the likelihood of memory formation
  3. organizing information: sorting new material and relating it to known ideas and previous experiences
  4. generation: actually speaking the item, or retelling, increases the likelihood of memory formation
  5. practice distribution: spaced retrieval of new memories increases memory formation; recent research indicates that multiple retrieval rather than multiple exposure (e.g., studying or re-reading a text) promotes better memory formation
  6. context: imagining the time and place in which new material is encountered positively influences recall

What can teachers take from this list? Processing new material beyond merely seeing it or hearing it increases the likelihood of memory. A major emphasis of our teaching needs to focus on engaging students in such processing.

The Architecture of Learning™ instructional design model actually builds such processing into teaching. When not using such a framework for designing instruction, we need to be mindful of engaging students in quality processing of new material.

It’s the processing that maximizes memory (and therefore learning).

Devachi, L. (2008, October). The limits of memory: How to maximize your memory trace. Session presented at the 2008 North American Neuroleadership Summit, New York.

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