Enhancing Memory Recall and Creativity
Online learners, particularly those carrying full academic loads, end up doing a lot of different types of learning: observation, rote memorization, analysis, comparison, problem-solving, and creation.
Understanding some of the research in human cognition may enhance the work of learners, in order to spark learning and improve recall.
Short- and Long- Term Memory
The human mind is conceptualized as consisting of short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is based on perceptions (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) and exists for only a brief time. Long-term memory may exist for many years, once learning has been embedded thoroughly.
For people to move information into their long-term memory for later use, they will need to rehearse the learning. Rehearsing learning may involve the work of tying imagery to concepts, word definitions, or phenomena. It may involve taking and reviewing thorough notes from the learning. It may help to review learning in an environment that is not distracting. Verbal rehearsal may involve orally going over materials and reading aloud. Visual rehearsal may involve the creation and memorization of visual imagery that reflects certain information, with these images held in a visual “buffer” until they are moved into the long-term memory. Some use memory tricks or mnemonic devices to help them recall particular information.
It may help to understand more complex information as a range of types or classes or categories. The objects within each grouping may be understood by their descriptors and other features.
For others, understanding a system of relationships or models or schema may clarify a complex situation or phenomena. “Mental models” is another term describing learner conceptualizations of complex relationships in particular learning domains; “conceptual models” refers to subject matter expert (SME) knowledgeable explanations of complex systems.
Strong Initial Learning
It helps to make sure that all the learning is clear—so prior misconceptions about a subject matter need to be addressed. Post-learning “retroactive interference” should also be addressed, so the original and accurate learning is not confused.
Vivid memories may seem unforgettable at the moment of perception, but these will usually still fade. Learning will also “decay,” so refreshing memory and reviewing learning materials will be important for successful and accurate recall.
Some suggest that memory may be mood-dependent based on the mood at the time of learning acquisition. Others suggest that the learning is location-sensitive, so they will rehearse in the spaces where they will need to “perform.”
The importance of rehearsal also shows the criticality of self-regulation and intentionality for learners. Students need to be self-disciplined in their use of time. They need to build the learning step-by-step instead of relying on last-minute cramming or trying to “game” a test.
Academic reading requires deep attention to details in order to encode the learning into the long-term memory. Speed-reading, skimming or scanning, is not advised for e-learning. Academic reading occurs at about 200 words per minute, and the faster types of speed reading are generally at about 700 - 800 words per minute. Academic reading is supposed to be the slowest and most attentive sort of reading, for effectiveness.
The Importance of Focus
Human perceptions and memory are limited. However, people may allocate this limited capacity for perceiving and memory—by emphasizing what is important through focus. People select particular experiences or perceptions within a full-sensory scene or experience. Their focus enhances their observational skills and their long-term memory. People need to “attend” (pay attention) in order to learn. Research has found that short-term memory may only hold about seven numbers or objects at any one time. (This is why having recording devices like mobile devices, cell phones, digital recorders, and so on, may be helpful.) When people are not paying full attention, the “messages” from the environment become “attenuated” or reduced in intensity or strength.
Deeply learned skills and tasks are considered “scripted” or “automatic” tasks. These are tasks that may be done without much awareness; these do not generally interfere with other mental activities. They do not involve much of a “cognitive load” or need to engage large parts of the brain to do. These tasks may include activities like cooking or preparing very familiar dishes, for example.
Knowledge Building on Knowledge
The human mind has been found to build new knowledge on existing knowledge. Each layer of learning is critical for the building of future knowledge. There is some research that there are developmental windows during which particular learning has to occur, or individuals may lose that potential skill into the future.
Problem-based learning and project-based learning may be enhanced with practice of similar problems.
Creativity and Innovation
Many consider the originating of new ideas the highest level of learning (beyond Bloom’s Taxonomy). The ability to know the fundamentals of a particular field and to add new knowledge on the edges or to even recreate the paradigm is a highly desirable capability.
Research on creativity highlights the importance of risk-taking and of multi-domain knowledge and thinking. Collaborations between people may also enhance their abilities to originate new insights, approaches, concepts, and products.
Different learners may have different learning preferences. Being aware of learning preferences and the situations in which one may best learn may be helpful in maximizing the time spent learning and recalling. The formal term for this is "metacognition," or awareness of awareness (or thinking about thinking).