Learning and memory are closely linked. Learning involves the acquisition of skills and knowledge, while memory is the expression of what has been acquired.
These two concepts can also be differentiated based on the speed at which these two things happen. If the acquisition of new skills or knowledge is slow then it is classified as learning. If this happens instantly it becomes part of a memory.
Memory can be categorized as long-term, short-term, and working memory. The first two can deteriorate due to old age, or a variety of clinical conditions.
Memory is an active, reflective, and subjective process of previous experiences. The formation of memory is generally classified into three processes:
- Encoding: This process is involved in memory formation and depends on three factors:
- Content: The type of content to be encoded can be impacted by the structure, size, and subject of the content and the learner’s familiarity with it.
- Environment: These are the conditions that can either inhibit or stimulate the process of memorization. (Ex: Temperature, humidity, socio-economic conditions, etc).
- Subjective: These external variable factors that affect the process of encoding. (Ex: Fatigue, motivation, interest, etc.)
- Storing: This is the second process wherein the encoded information is preserved for future use. In this process, the information is stored, transformed, and reorganized with new reference points. Information is stored based on 3 levels of memory:
- Long-term memory: This memory is used for storing and recalling information at a later stage. Emotions play a major role in the process of recall. Stronger the emotions caused by memory, the easier it is to recall the event.
- Short-term memory: This type of memory lasts only between 20-30 seconds before they begin decaying rapidly. Short-term memory can be improved by repeatedly rehearsing the content.
- Working memory: Working memory is often confused with short-term memory. This memory is the “go-between” short-term and long-term memories. This memory is used for memorizing information and using it later for task completion.
- Retrieving: This process involves accessing the stored information through recall or recognition. Recall happens by uncovering of information from memory, which could be a fact, object, or event.
Weak memory and learning
Weak working memory can impact on learning. Those with weak working memory will have difficulty in organizing and integrating new skills or knowledge. As a result, they will have difficulty in following directions, learning procedures with multiple steps, organizing thoughts, or processing information. Problems in long-term memory can hinder recall of information. The individual may get confused, disorganized or disoriented when presented with new learning content.
Memory and synapses
Memory consolidation depends on how synapses work in the brain. Synapses are like the electrical system that conducts current.
Synapses pass signals between neurons using neuro-transmitters. When two neurons fire together repeatedly, they become sensitized, making them likely to work in the future.
With new experiences, memories, and information, several similar connections are set up in the brain while old ones are weeded out.
Rehearsing and recalling information repeatedly results in the strengthening of the synaptic pathway.
Repeated firing of the same neurons will make them more likely to fire together in the future as well. This will help in remembering and recalling the information with greater accuracy and ease.
Influences on memory consolidation
Memories are often misunderstood as filing cabinets that store information or specific memories in individual files. However, the memories are spread across different parts of the brain.
One of the major theories of sleep has shown that sleep can help in processing and consolidating memories that have been acquired when people have been awake.
Lost memories can be reconsolidated after they have been recalled. Recalling and reconsolidating a memory helps in maintaining and strengthening information located in the long-term memory.
Speeding up memory consolidation with space repetition
The process of memory consolidation can be speeded up when learning new skills or information. Rehearsing and memorizing using mnemonic techniques can improve the process of recall.
Another method to improve the consolidation of information in the long-term memory is to rehearse the information in spaced intervals (space repetition) repeatedly. This technique ensures better memory retention and should be preferred over the technique of cramming information on the night before an examination.
One can adopt memorization strategies by understanding the process of memory consolidation. This will ensure that students can utilize their study time more effectively and efficiently.