On The Importance of Memory in Learning

R’boul Hamza is presently pursuing Master program in “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” at the University of Ibn-Tofail in Kenitra. His research paper endeavors to critically scrutinize the interplay between Memory and Learning.

Kenitra, Morocco

Irrespective of the planned intellectual objectives of a certain teaching process, memory is unequivocally a decisive parcel and an apparatus contributing to the successfulness of learning in any respective field. Learning can be identified as “acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities.” (Brown et al. 2014), viz., studying the human brain as the primary representation of the human cognitive system is a prerequisite for assuming a relatively deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms of learning processes. Due to the human brains enormous complexity, some specialized cognitive abilities are better investigated in connection with human learning. Human memory has generally been proffered as one of the most fascinating evolutionary developments that has been widely established as the cornerstone of any systematic human learning. According to Emma Button, head of Pre-Prep at Wellington College International Shanghai, learning and memory are closely related concepts. Learning is the acquisition of skill or knowledge while the memory is the expression of what you’ve acquired. Correspondingly, several learning theories have embraced memory as one of their general underlying assumptions.

Professor of Psychology at SUNY Geneseo Margaret W. Matlin, has recognized memory as the “process of retaining information over time,” (Matlin, 2005), whereas Pr. Saul Sternberg has elucidated that “Memory is the means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to use this information in the present” (Sternberg, 1999). Memory is indispensable to the various learning mechanisms in as much as the ability to store and retrieve the information with which individuals are endowed. Memory has absentmindedly been thought to be nothing but merely the record left by a learning process. Evidently, memory greatly hinges on learning. However, we should also consider the idea that learning is also appreciably reliant on memory because the knowledge stored in human’s memory dispenses the framework to which an individual link new knowledge by association. Learning essentially means the dynamic modification of memory. The role of memory is the interpretation and the placement of inputs. Memory must decide what’s worth keeping by determining what the meaning of an input is and where it fits in relation to previous knowledge it has already stored. Consequently, with the help the extensiveness of the framework of existing knowledge, humans are easily capable of effectively linking new knowledge to the prior one.

Parenthetically, learning is the aptitude of amending the information that has already been stored in the memory based on a new input, practice or experience. Since memory is predicated upon prior learning, the latter is considered the first step in memory, which takes place when our sensory systems convey information to the brain. Our sensory system is able of holding numerous items simultaneously but only fleetingly. Learning is an active process that entails the transmission of sensory input to the brain, which occurs automatically, and an ability to derive meaning from sensory input by paying attention to it long enough to reach working (short-term) memory. By means of selective attention, information is moved into consciousness and into the short-term memory. This allows us to retain information long enough to use it (either 15 and 30 seconds (Peterson and Peterson, 1959) or 7±2 ‘chunks’ of information (Miller, 1956)). Then, a consideration for transferring material into permanent (long-term) memory is the next consecutive process. Learning and Memory comprise a concatenation of stages. Processes occurring during the presentation of the learning material are known as “encoding”. This is the first stage. Following the process of encoding, some information is stored within the memory system. Hence, storage is the second stage. The third and last stage is retrieval, which continuously involves the recovery or the extraction of stored information from the memory system.

However, an equally significant aspect of the nexus between memory and learning is the concept of working memory. The relationship between short-term memory and working memory has been indefinite; albeit, it has been propounded that if short-term memory is to be a conscious memory, then working memory is analogous to a post-it note. Working memory was later further investigated  by Baddeley and Hitch (1974) who proposed that working memory encompasses the central executive, the phonological loop(language), and the visuospatial scratchpad (visual semantics). Presently, there is an increasing set of scientific evidence which unanimously stresses that working memory is directly linked to key learning outcomes. Substantiation of working memory problems has been pinpointed by researchers in individuals with reading and mathematical difficulties, developmental coordination disorder, language impairments and attention problems. Similarly, strong support has appeared for the view that working memory represents a decisive factor in determining a child’s success in learning outcomes (for example, a study of typically developing 5-year-olds showcased working memory to be the best predictor of scores on standardized measures of reading, spelling and math for six years).

Overall, each of the aforementioned theoretical positions makes an important contribution to our understanding of the importance of memory in learning. In the light of this, memory has frequently been among the general assumptions underlying theories of learning; therefore, the consideration of the significant correlations between memory as cognitive ability and the process of learning is unbelievably salient in understanding the assorted learning processes. In this way, the conscious application of the psycholinguistics findings related to the field of memory and learning may dramatically ameliorate the scope of language learning. To capitalize on functional significance of memory for human learning, instructors are necessarily required to construct classroom activities that adequately respond to the general observations and analysis propounded by scholars.

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G.H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 8, pp. 47–89). New York: Academic Press.
Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Matlin, M. W. (2005). Cognition. Crawfordsville: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our
capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63 (2): 81–97.
Peterson, L.R., & Peterson, M.J. (1959). Short-term retention of individual verbal items. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 58, 193-198
Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive psychology (2 nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

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