Converting Short Term Memory to Long Term

Converting Short Term Memory to Long Term

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 process

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.

What are the 3 stages of memory?

Remembering something is a three-stage process: encoding, storage, retrieval.


A memory begins as a collection of sensory input—what we see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. This input needs to be converted into one of three brain storage formats: a picture, a sound, or a meaning. For example, audio signals which are connected with visual symbols become “words” with definitions—a combination of the sound and meaning storage formats.


The encoded items need to be stored somewhere. The brain has three options: short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory.


The goal of the memory process is retrieval or “remembering.” In other words, as required, one or more encoded formats are “displayed” in our mind’s eye.

Where is short term memory located?

Short-term memory is represented by simple patterns of neural communication, present in these regions of the brain:

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Frontal lobe
  • Parietal lobe.

The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for moving information from short-term to long-term, however, it does not store the information itself.

Short Term Memory - Prefontal Cortex

Photo Credit: IFL Science

Where is long term memory located?

Long-term memory is produced by the hippocampus’s changes in neural connections which are spread throughout the brain. Parts of the brain associated with storing long-term memories are:

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Cerebrum
  • Frontal lobe
  • Medial temporal lobe.

Although, the permanent storage of long-term memories depends on the depth of connections between neurons. In other words, memories with stronger connections are the ones we have deeply processed.

How long does short term memory last?

According to Atkinson and Shiffrin (1971), short term memory lasts between 15 and 30 seconds, however, can be maintained in short term memory through spaced repetition and revision.

What is short term memory loss?

Basically, short-term memory loss is being unable to retrieve the encoded formats of recent episodic events. In other words, you cannot remember things you saw, did, or heard just a short time ago. Examples include: being unable to answer in the evening about what you had for lunch several hours earlier; missing doses of a new medicine because you forget to take it, and leaving the shopping mall and not remembering where you parked the car. While occasional forgetting can happen to us all, especially about the car, it is the frequency which is the deciding factor.

Short-term memory loss can be a normal outcome of ageing. On the other hand, it can point to an underlying issue such as brain injury or a neurological (brain) disease.

spaced repetition learning

How does long term memory last?

The way to ensure long-lasting long-term memory is through spaced repetition to counteract the effects of Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve. The curve can be avoided if information is continuously embedded in short-term memory until it becomes imprinted into the long-term. Read more about Ebbinghaus and the forgetting curve here:

What are the main characteristics of long term memory?

The main characteristics of long term memory include memories that are usually measured in as short as months and as long as decades. Long term memories, or more distant memories, can include significant milestones from the past such as one’s early birthday or a wedding day, for example.

Here are 3 main characteristics of long term memory:

Conscious memory, which researchers also refer to as explicit or declarative memory. Explicit memory includes information that you have to work to remember like a mathematical formula or certain important dates in history.

Unconscious memory, also referred to as implicit or procedural memory. These types of memories include habits, skills, and simple forms of conditioning like knowing how to tie your shoes or remembering the lyrics of a song after the first few notes.

The relationship between both memory systems. According to researchers, the two systems depend on the hippocampus and related areas in the brain, all of which work together to categorize and make sense of conscious memory, unconscious memory, and the relationship between the two.

What are 3 types of long term memory?

Long-term memory itself can be divided into types.

Researchers have proposed several ways of categorization.

3 Divisions

Endel Tulving’s 1972 idea was for three types of long-term memory: episodic, procedural, and semantic. Episodic memories are conscious thoughts about what we believe is true. For example, an encoded item which reminds us that we turned off the stove before we left the house. Procedural memories are as their name sounds—encoded information about how to do things such as change a tire or brush our teeth. Lastly, semantic memories are encoded items of factual information, including world knowledge and language.

2 Divisions

Some researchers say that episodic and semantic memory are two types of declarative memories. In other words, what we “know” (believe) to be true. As a result, they categorize long-term memory into two divisions: declarative and nondeclarative

Another way to name these two categories is explicit (declarative) and implicit (nondeclarative) memories.

Short term vs. long term memory

The following table highlights the major physical differences between short-term and long-term memory.


Short-term memory

Long-term memory


20-30 secs. before decay begins

“Forever” until ageing or ill-health interferes

Storage location
in the brain
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Frontal lobe
  • Parietal lobe
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Cerebrum
  • Frontal lobe
  • Medial temporal lobe

These differences are logically aligned with the purpose of each memory type. 

Short-term memory begins the remembering process. Its function is to interpret the new information. As a result, it is located in brain areas responsible for speech (reading and writing), interpretation of language, and interpretation of sensory signals (sight, hearing, touch, sound). 

Long-term memory is our warehouse of remembering. Its function is to store our past interpretations for retrieval as needed. Thus, it occupies some of the same brain areas as short-term memory (in order to make sense of the language and sensory coding stored) but occupies another important area, too—the medial temporal lobe. Among other things, this brain region is responsible for sequencing and ordering. This makes sense as memory retrieval needs to be orderly, presenting information in the correct arrangement or in the right series.

Weak memory and learning

If you sometimes wonder why you forget things so quickly, you’re not alone. 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.

Short term to long term memory – Consolidation

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.

How can I improve my short term memory?

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.

How can I improve my short term memory with BrainBoost?

Another method to improve the consolidation of information in the long-term memory is to rehearse the information in spaced intervals (spaced repetition) repeatedly. This technique ensures better memory retention and should be preferred over the technique of cramming information on the night before an examination. Read more here,

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.  

You may be interested in our article on how to learn a language. Click here to check it out or copy this link,