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Thursday, 21 June 2012

20 Memory Techniques (Part 3)

4.       Learn actively. Action is a great memory enhancer. Test this theory by studying your assignments with the same energy that you bring to the dance floor or basketball court.

You can use simple, direct methods to infuse your learning with action. When you sit at your desk, sit up straight. Sit on the edge of your chair, as if you were about to spring out of it and sprint across the room.

Also experiment with standing up when you study. It’s harder to fall asleep in this position. Some people insist that their brains work better when they stand. Pace back and forth and gesture as you recite material out loud. Use your hands get your body moving.

This includes your mouth. During lecture, ask questions. With your textbooks, read key passages out loud. Use a louder voice for the main points.

Active learning also involves a variety of learning styles. In my blog I will add an article about “Learning styles: Discovering how you learn” which, will explain in large detail four aspects of learning: concrete experience, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, and reflective observation. Many courses in higher education lean heavily toward abstract conceptualization – lectures, papers, and reading. These courses might not offer chances to actively experiment with ideas or test them in concrete experience.

Create those opportunities yourself. For example, your introductory psychology book probably offers some theories about how people remember information. Choose one of those theories and test it on yourself. See if you can discover a new memory technique.

Your sociology class might include a discussion about how groups of people resolve conflict. See it you can apply any of these ideas to resolving conflict in your own family.

The point behind each of these examples is the same: to remember an idea, go beyond thinking about it. Do something with it.   

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

20 Memory Techniques (Part 2)

2.       Make it meaningful. One way to create meaning is to learn from the general to the specific. Before you begin your next reading assignment, skin it to locate the main idea. If you’re ever lost, step back and look at the big picture. The details might make more sense.

You can organize any list of items – even random ones – in a meaningful way to make them easier to remember. In this blog I have proposed five principles for organizing any body of ideas, facts or objects:

Organize by time
Events in history or in a novel flow in chronological order.
Organize by location
Addresses for a large company’s regional offices are grouped by state and city.
Organize by category
Nonfiction library materials are organized by subject categories
Organize by continuum
Products rates in Consumers Guide are grouped from highest in price to lowest in proce, or highest in quality to lowest in quality.
Organize by alphabet
Entries in a book index are listed in ABC order.

3.       Create association. The data already encoded in your neural networks is arranged according to a scheme that makes sense to you. When you introduce new data, you can remember it more effectively if you associate it with similar or related data.

Think about your favorite courses. They probably relate to subjects that you already know something about. If you know a lot about the history of twentieth-century music, for example, than you’ll find it easier to remember facts about twenty-first century music.

Even when you’re tackling a new subject, you can build a mental store of basic background information – the raw material for creating associations. Preview reading assignments, and complete those readings before you attend lectures. Before taking upper-level courses, master the prerequisites.  

Sunday, 17 June 2012

20 Memory Techniques (Part 1)

Experiment with these techniques to develop a flexible, custom-made memory system that fits your style of learning.

The 20 techniques are divided into four categories, each of which represents a general principle for improving memory.

ORGANIZE IT. Organized information is easier to find.

USE YOUR BODY. Learning is an active process; get all of your sense involved.

USE YOUR BRAIN. Work with your memory, not against it.

RECALL IT. Regularly retrieve and apply key information. Read this article with application in mind. Mark the techniques which you like best and use them. Also look for ways to combine techniques.  


1.       Be selective. There’s a difference between gaining understanding and drowning in information. During your stay in higher education, you will be exposed to thousands of facts and ideas. No one expects you to memorize all of them. To a large degree, the art of memory is the art of selecting what to remember in the first place.

As you dig into your textbooks and notes, make choices about what is most important to learn, make choices about what is most important to learn. Imagine that you are going to create a test on the material and consider the questions you would ask.

When reading, look for chapter previews, summaries, and review questions. Pay attention to anything printed in bold type. Also notice visual elements – tables, charts, graphs, and illustrations. All of these are clues pointing to what’s important. During lectures, notice what the instructor emphasizes.

Anything that’s presented visually – on the board, on overheads, or with slides – is probably key.   

Friday, 15 June 2012

Take your memory out of the closet

Once upon a time, people talked about human memory as if it were a closet. You stored individual memories there like old shirts and stray socks. Remembering something was a matter of rummaging through all that stuff. If you were lucky, you found what you wanted.

This view of memory creates some problems. For one thing, closets can get crowded. Things too easily disappear. Even with the biggest closet, you eventually run out of space. If you want to pack some new memories in their-well, too bad. There’s no room.

Brain researchers have shattered this image to bits. Memory is not a closet. It’s not a place or a thing. Instead, memory is a process.

On a conscious level, memories appear as distinct and unconnected mental events: words, sensations, images. They can include details form the distant past – the smell of cookies baking in your grandmother’s kitchen or the feel of sunlight warming your face through the window of your first-grade classroom.

On a biological level, each of those memories involves millions of nerve cells, or neurons, firing chemical messages to each other. If you could observe these exchanges in real time, you’d see regions of cells all over the brain glowing with electrical charges at speed that would put a computer to shame.

When a series of cells connects several times in a similar pattern, the result is a memory. Psychologist Donald Hebb uses the ophorism “Neurons which fire together, wire together” to describe this principle. This means that memories are not really “stored.” Instead, remembering is a process in which you encode information as links between active neurons that fire together. You also decode, or reactivate, neurons that wired together in the past.

Memory is the probability that certain patterns of brain activity will occur again in the future. In effect, you re-create a memory each time you recall it.

Whenever you learn something new, your brain changes physically by growing more connections between neurons. The more you learn, the greater the number of connections. For all practical purposes, there’s no limit to how many memories your brain can encode.

There’s a lot you can do to wire those neural networks into place. That’s where the memory techniques described in my blog come into play. Step out of your crowded mental closet into a world of infinite possibilities.