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Becoming a Learner - Page 11
Return to Becoming a Learner CONTENTS  PAGE
Page 11: The Learning Process - Memory (Knowledge)
Part 2: The Adventure of Learning
Many years ago I heard a Cambridge Professor describing the brain as being like a muscle, with the conclusion that the more we use it, the better it will be. If you think you have a poor memory, it is probably because you don’t understand it and rarely work at using it.

This page seeks to change that.  The learning process involves the use of memory and therefore if we wish to be a Learner, we would do well to understand something, at least, of the workings of the memory.
Introducing Knowledge and Memory

What actually goes on in the learning process?  Well the first thing is that you start taking in some knowledge – and you hold on to it so you can use it next time you think about this thing. (Can’t get more simple than that can you!!!)

We do this when we are learning facts from a book, and we do it when we learn practical things like knitting, wood turning, painting and so on. In every case (and very often in the simpler learning things), we do it almost without thinking. Oh, by the way did you know that Hercules was a Greek hero of great strength who performed 12 very hard tasks?
Let’s use a very simple illustration. On TV on ‘Gardening World’ suppose we see Alan Titchmarsh showing how he plants bulbs in different layers in a plant pot.

A week later you find a decent size pot in the shed in your garden and some left-over compost and you put it in layers in the pot and at different levels you put different size bulbs that came in a mixed bulb pack. You put the final layer of compost in the pot and then water it and put the pot in a dark place in the shed for a couple of weeks and then check on it from time to time until you see shoots and them leave it out in the garden to develop.
You had no instructions beyond three minutes of watching Alan Titchmarsh in action. When you did it yourself a week later, in your mind you ‘saw’ what Alan did and ‘heard’ what he said. It had interested you. Your memory recalled the picture on your TV. In three minutes you learnt how to do it. Your computer-like mind was recalling dozens of facts or pieces of knowledge (this is a flower pot, these are different size bulbs, this is potting compost, this is how you layer it., and so on.)  By the way, did you know that Hercules was a Greek hero of great strength who performed 12 very hard tasks?

We  could repeat that illustration a dozen times with basic knitting, setting up a tropical fish tank, wiring an electrical plug, basic origami, making pancakes and so on. With all of those things your mind will, as you watch someone demonstrating it, take in dozens of pieces of information and, for most of us, we’ll ‘see’  it in our mind’s eye, and then have a go at doing it.

So, without scanning back up the page two paragraphs, tell me what happened in the Alan Titchmarsh illustration and go through it stage by stage. Now I know you’re not going to believe this but did you know that Hercules was a Greek hero of great strength who performed 12 very hard tasks?

The Mechanics of Memory

Now let’s pick up some of the things we saw in that first section, and then add some more, things that help memory work:
1. It interested you

- Something you find stimulating stays with you.
- Question: How can you make learning masses of information stimulating?
- Some people can tell you who won the FA Cup for the last ten years. Why? They are passionate about football.
- If you have a passage to learn, read it out loud a number of times putting different emphases on different words to make it sound different. (If you want a good example of this look up Peter Sellars on YouTube doing a Shakespearean version of “It’s been a hard day’s night” – the Beatles song).  
- Laughter stimulates the mind but be careful that you don’t use a comedy routine on YouTube to make you laugh and then all you can remember is the routine!
2. For most of us we visualised it

- Most of us use our imagination and ‘see’ things in picture form.
- Barak Obama   - what did you ‘see’ as you read those two words.
- Next, try a “Thunder Storm”
- A plug in a socket outlet with a lead to a Hoover – did you ‘see’ it?
- A red rose – can you see it?
- Memory can be stirred by visualising something – a picture or diagram on a page, the layout of a page in your notes, or what you were doing when you left your keys somewhere!
- Visualisation of notes can be helped by using coloured underlining of HEADINGS, putting boxes around headings etc.
- A longer exercise – imagine leaving your house and making your way to Southend Airport to catch a plane. Go on, imagine yourself going down your road, to the next one and next one. Could you guide me there if we spoke over the phone? This leads us on to –
3. We remember by association

- i.e. one thing leads on to another
- In the Alan Titchmarsh potting illustration one act naturally followed another.
- On the way to Southend Airport one road led to another.
- What was on the other end of the lead from the Hoover?  A plug! You ‘saw’ the Hoover and almost instantly went along the lead to the plug in the wall. Of course it is an obvious everyday example but learning links things together like that.
- When you run a new piece of knowledge past you the first time, it is like you’re walking a new path through the woods. The first time you tread down the grass and break twigs and crunch leaves underfoot, but the signs of it hardly remain. Walk it again the next day, and your footprints in the grass and the leaves become firmer. Walk the same path every day for a week and you won’t have to think where to place your feet. It will be a clear, distinct, visible path that has been established. This is what we do with repetition in the memory.

- When I was a child we had to memorise our ‘times tables’ and now I don’t even think what seven eights are – fifty six flies up without a thought. We bribed each of our children to memorise them in an age when it wasn’t common to memorise. It’s stood them in good stead.

- Going back over your notes, imprints them more firmly in your memory. Don’t leave it to the week before exams. Do it regularly.
4. We learn by repetition and reinforcement

- By the way, who was Hercules? Greek hero of great strength who performed 12 very hard tasks – you’ve already read it three times in the page above. Initially you hardly noticed it and wondered why it was there. The second time you thought, “What?” and then the third time you thought, “What is he on about?” but it stuck!

This page is continued on Page 11A

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