Use Multiple Pathways to Build Stronger Memories
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. — Confucius
Now, the interesting question. I avoided saying, “Picture yourself there.” You are obviously using your eyes. While imagining yourself there, did you use any other senses?
Do you hear anything? What about the sounds of the old car bumping along the country road? It will get louder as we cross the bridge. We’ll hear creaking wood, and perhaps some squeaks from the metal structure or of the car we’re riding in. Did you imagine the sounds of birds? There might be cows or sheep out in the fields. I don’t see them, but I suspect they’re there. We’d hear them too.
What about other senses? With cows in the field, I can imagine how it smells. And the dust is making me sneeze. What about body senses? My hips and back are sore from hours of bumping along, but crossing that bridge will be even more painful.
And traveling from the top of the hill down to the bridge will feel like a roller coaster. I can actually feel my muscles getting tighter and I’m taking deeper breaths to prepare for the downhill trip and the bridge.
The mountains aren’t too far away. It will be bumpy, I know, with steep roads and hairpin curves, but I’m looking forward to the cool, crisp air. What fun it will be to look back in this direction and see the road we are on now.
Memories are stronger when we use mult-sensory learning
If you only think to look at the world, your memories will be limited. Using all our senses creates not just more information but more connections in our brain. Our memories will be more complete and we’ll be able to access the memories through many different mental cues. I like the way Eric Jensen refers ideas from Leslie Hart and from Renata and Geoffrey Caine.
Hart says that the brain simultaneously operates on many levels, processing all at once a world of color, movement, emotion, shape, intensity, sound, taste, weight, and more. It assembles patterns, composes meaning, and sorts daily life experiences from an extraordinary number of clues. This amazing multi-processor can be starved for input in a typical classroom. The typical response is often frustration or boredom.
Caine and Caine also remind us the brain is processing on many paths, modalities, levels of consciousness, and meaning levels. It is designed to process many inputs at once. In fact, it prefers multi-processing so much , a slower, more linear pace actually reduces understanding. In short, many instructors, trainers, and teachers actually inhibit learning by the way they teach. Brain-Based Learning & Teaching, p. 8.
Don’t just use all your senses: Use Multiple PATHWAYS to Memory
You might, for example, study history combining what you read in your textbook and hear in lectures
1. Visual Memory using maps, a timeline, and a concept map.
2. Auditory Memory using rhymes or songs to remember names and dates
3. Kinesthetic Memory, acting out several important events,
4. Relational Memory connecting new information with what you already knew or with your personal experience. Perhaps you have visited the battlefield or read a biography from that time period.
5. Story-telling, hearing stories about that event or time period.
Yes, you could also include Rote Memory and Mnemonics. What is important is that when you use multiple pathways, your memories are multifaceted. Your memories are saved in many different parts of your brain. When you are asked a question and have trouble retrieving the memory from rote learning, memories from all over the brain come to mind.
This means you will remember more, you will remember it better (with greater detail), and you will remember it longer. And in my opinion, it is more fun to learn this way and it takes less time.
Does Research prove this is true?
It does prove that using two senses improves learning.
If you are not interested in the research, you might skip to the conclusion in the last paragraph and skip the rest.
John Medina refers, in his book, Brain Rules, to research done by Richard Mayer. Medina and Mayer, refer to two senses, hearing and sight. My assumption is that they actually mean lectures and reading. They may, however, have read a short passage and heard a short talk.
Mayer took a group of participants and divided them into three groups.
1. Group one used hearing to learn new information. (I assume they heard a lecture since I can’t imagine any other way they would receive testable information.)
2. Group two used sight to learn new information. (Again, I assume they read the information rather than watching something occur without hearing anything.)
3. The third group received the information using both senses. (I assume they read the material and listened to a lecture.
They do not report the actual results here, but I have seen generalized results from similar studies. They say we remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see (read?). I would imagine the results would be a little better when students both hear and read the information. I would have guessed 40-50%, though that seemed a little high when I picture typical students. The actual results are closer to 70%. This certainly makes a good case for students to read their assignments AND to listen carefully to lectures.
Conclusion: The groups in the multi-sensory environments always do better than the groups in the uni-sensory environments:
1. They have more accurate recall.
2. Their recall has greater resolution and lasts longer, evident even 20 years later.
3. Problem solving improves.
In one study, the group given the multi-sensory presentations generated more than 50% more creative solutions on a problem solving test than students who saw a uni-sensory presentation. In another study the improvement was more than 75%.
The improvements were physical as well. Our muscles react more quickly, our threshold for detecting stimuli improves, and our eyes react to visual stimuli more quickly. It’s not just sight and sound. When touch is combined with visual information, recognition learning leaps forward by almost 30%.
If you are looking for an educational experiment, you might try testing students using reading and lectures plus one, two, three, four or five of these pathways.
Why does multi-sensory learning improve understanding and memory?
Medina suggests that the extra information we add to the memory is a form of elaboration. We are adding details and elaboration makes memory more accurate and longer lasting. He also suggests that the additional information from the senses “helps the learner integrate the new material with prior information.” p.209.
You have probably notices that the other pages in the section on memory all have pictures of pathways, a metaphor describing our pathways to memory.
Look at the following pages that describe a pathway to memory. I certainly could have added additional pathways but chose to limit the number to ten. If, however, you use what you’d describe as an additional pathway to memory, please share your idea.
You might ask yourself questions:
Which of these eight pathways do you use most often?
Which pathways have you never used?
Which new pathway do you think would be most helpful to you?
I would suggest that the most important page below is Scheduled Reviews because it should be used with all of the pathways. It allows you to review briefly on a regular schedule resulting in more learning in less time and longer memory. It also reduced the need to cram for a test. I’d call this one of the most important pages in the website.
You might also want to read these other ways of memory.