Creating Memory Masters

My favorite personal reading material, Discover Magazine, often divulges great and new research findings on how the mind works – frequently focusing on learning and memory retrieval. The information often makes me ask how we can best use this new information to develop the best courseware for our learners. In the July/August issue, an article on memory champion Joshua Foer caught my attention – and still has me thinking.

Joshua Foer won the U.S. A. Memory Championship in 2006 and set a new record in the “speed cards” event, where he memorized a deck of 52 cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds. Huh? I’ll not invite HIM to family card night! However, this feat – along with others like memorizing the names and faces of hundreds of strangers, a list of random digits, biographies, and poetry, to name a few – have me absolutely intrigued. Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (just rated one of the top 10 best books of 2011), might just show us how we can become a master of memory, as well…or at least what steps he took to do it!

In the Discover Magazine article, Foer notes that though he had superior memory for things that could be placed neatly in what he calls a Memory Palace, all of the memory techniques he practices – and mastered – didn’t help him with some of the really important “objectives” of life. He states:

…For all of the memory stunts I could now perform, I was still stuck with the same old shoddy memory that misplaces car keys and cars…I’d upgraded my memory’s software, but my hardware seemed to have remained fundamentally unchanged…My experience had validated the old saw that practice makes perfect. But only if it’s the right kind of concentrated, self-conscious, deliberate practice…Remembering can happen only if you decide to take notice.

Foer’s comment makes me ask two questions:

  • First, what can we do to help a learner memorize information they have to know at any moment of their work day (such as the steps of a procedure, or the policy on dealing with an irate customer)?
  • Secondly, what do we do (or what do we need to do) to make our learners take notice?

The first goal – memorization – seems to be the one that many courses focus on. We use things like creating mnemonic (or other) devices for the learner, quizzing throughout, testing at the end of the course, to help the leaner temporarily (with the goal of permanently) compartmentalize information. Depending on the content and the goals, any of these can be valid, and even desirable, ways of helping them memorize a lot of information or the many steps of a procedure (which with a new procedure could seem similar to learning the order of a deck of cards).

The second goal – helping the learner take notice – is something that takes a bit more effort. Here are some things I’ve used or have seen used to help a learner “notice” the content:

  • Helping them visualize what is in it for them when they learn the material
  • Using real-life stories of how the material being covered has affected someone else
  • Creating engaging courses that make the learner want to see what is on the next screen
  • Asking questions that make the learner wonder what the answer is until they find out later in the lesson
  • Setting up scenarios that make the learner think about the possible outcomes of behaviors

So, when we put it all together, the question becomes: Are we doing enough to help the learner take notice and then use the right kind of concentrated, conscious, deliberate practice to make the right information stick? It’s definitely something to think about and ask for every course.

I’ve listed some ideas that can help the learner take notice. What things have you done in your courses to help your learners to take notice?

Desiree Pinder
Artisan E-Learning

2 Responses to “Creating Memory Masters

  • Diane Elkins
    12 years ago

    I think another important consideration is to determine when a learning does NOT have to remember something. There are a lot of examples in memory enhancement articles about ways to memorize your shopping list. My philosphy…why bother!?!? That’s what the pad on the side of the refrigerator is for! Why in the world would I spend mental energy remembering it? The same with training. If a learner can simply look up something on a list, why should we spend our trainign time, energy and dollars while they spend their learning time and energy trying to memorize it. So when developing training, we need to ask ourselves, do they need to know it cold (memorize it), understand it, or simply know where to find it? Otherwise, we are over-teaching.

  • Diane Elkins
    12 years ago

    Here’s a great article > Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at our Fingertips

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