Learning memory and retention

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Retention of learned information can be defined as having the information stored in long-term memory in such a way that it can be readily retrieved, for example, in response to standard prompts.

Students retain what they learn

When deciding what to commit to long-term memory, the brain asks itself two basic questions: does the information make sense, and does it have meaning? If what students have heard or read does not make sense to them, they will quickly forget it. Imagine reading a complex manual on aeronautical engineering. Assuming that you are not an expert in this field, you will encounter lots of technical jargon that makes little sense to you. Even though what youre reading about has a great deal of relevance in the real world, the fact that you are unable to understand it means that your brain likely won't hold onto the information for very long.

When assessing whether information has meaning, the brain tries to figure out if what it has learned is actually relevant and worth remembering. If the information is likely to be referred to again or it holds currency within a social context, the brain will put forth the effort to store the learning in long-term memory. If its unlikely that new information will ever be used again, the brain wont waste its resources.

What this tells us is that retaining knowledge requires students to fully understand the material and to believe that it matters. Instruction that emphasizes discussion, extensive writing, application of concepts, and building on ideas over time achieves this objective because it asks students to actively construct knowledge and to draw on that knowledge to generate something new. Instruction that emphasizes surface-level recall of content and a curriculum comprised of disconnected supplemental texts fails on both counts.

If we want our learning to stick, we need to be doing more than just reading a textbook or passively listening to our teachers. Of course, most learning will inevitably involve some reading and listening, but by using a variety of techniques to cement new information in our minds, well be far more likely to retain it in the long-term. With this in mind, here are ten strategies to help you get the most out of the time you spend studying.


With the passage of time, various techniques have been invented to improve learning and retention.
However, the basic idea followed in them can be summed up in the points given below:-
  • Use Visual Aids
  • When you engage more of your senses in the learning process youll be better able to recall what you learn, and research shows that visuals in particular can help us to retrieve information more easily. Visuals have also been shown to transmit messages faster and improve overall comprehension, so whenever possible, try to use visual learning aids such as instructional videos, documentaries, infographics, photos, maps and charts to enhance your learning.

  • Seek Out Demonstrations
  • In order to retain what youve learned, you need to understand the topic inside out, which is why demonstrations can be very effective. Unlike simply reading or listening to an explanation, demonstrations show you how something works and help you visualise the concept.

  • Participate in Group Discussions
  • Discussing what youve learned, whether immediately or a few days down the line, is important because it forces you to actively process the material. So whenever possible, try to participate in group discussions where youll have the opportunity to go over the material youve learned, gain new perspectives and discuss any potential misunderstandings.

  • Put It Into Practice
  • Putting your learning into practice is important for cementing it in your mind, because practice creates new neural pathways in the brain. Each time you practice a new skill or apply some new piece of information in a practical way, those pathways are strengthened and youll be less and less likely to forget what youve learned.

  • Look For Opportunities to Teach Others
  • Unless youre an expert on a particular topic, you probably wouldnt consider teaching it to others, but research shows that explaining a concept to someone else is the best way to learn it yourself. With this in mind, if you really want your learning to stick, you may want to consider looking for someone to tutor or offer to help your fellow students with their homework.

  • Relate New Material to What You Already Know
  • When youre learning something completely new, one way to help it stick in your memory is to connect it with something you have already learned. In one study, participants who were provided with relevant cues before listening to prose passages were better at recalling them later than those who had received no cues or contextual knowledge beforehand.

  • Make an Effort to Retrieve Information From Memory
  • Dont be too quick to grab your textbook or consult Google when you cant remember some important piece of information. Instead, try to remember what youve already got stored away in your brain.

  • Read Out Loud
  • If you want to retain something youve read youll have a better chance of doing so if you read it out loud.

  • Write by Hand
  • Although most students these days prefer to type than write by hand, the act of putting pen to paper is still important when it comes to committing new information to memory. One reason for this is that writing by hand typically requires more effort and takes longer than typing, which forces the brain to fully engage with the new material.

  • Embrace Your Mistakes
  • No one likes making mistakes, but research shows that making mistakes while learning actually benefits memory. In one study, participants who had made mistakes while trying to find the right answer were better able to remember the correct information later on.

  • Be Flexible
  • Try new learning styles. The basic funda of life is to not let monotony creep in. Everything becomes monotonous if it becomes a routine for long periods. Keep changing your study timetable so that it does not become boring.

  • Make a List
  • Create a framework and organize ideas. The messier the things are, the less likely it is for you to concentrate. Clear your mind to structure and organise.

  • Review
  • Practice and review materials at times. Do not just study and forget about them to be remembered at the eleventh hour of examination. Keep reviewing it every now and then.

  • Schedule
  • Be strategic about studying. There are students who give so many hours to study daily yet are unable to recall anything when needed. The best way to overcome this problem is to be strategic while studying. Form a strategy to study more effectively.

  • Use a Support
  • Create tables, charts, and other aids as needed. placing them in your room near your study table helps you recollect information easily when needed.

  • Rephrase
  • Use your own words to explain concepts. There might be terms that you dont understand or the text language that you cannot process. Just try to rephrase that particular information for easy analysis.

  • Avoid Distractions
  • Turn off T.V., phone, and other electronic gadgets near you so that you can concentrate on what you are studying. You think that your brain is multitasking but the truth is that human brain cannot concentrate on more that one thing at a particular point of time.

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