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  • Writer's pictureFrank Doogan

Why remember when you can just look it up?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023


It might be tempting to think that given so much is available through Google, app-based learning, web-based resources, digibook learning, computer adaptive learning, watching ‘it’ on youtube, asking wikipedia, asking GPT etc. etc., the need to memorise/remember things is less important than it has been in the past. Why remember stuff when you can just look it up? It's a really interesting question, but one that ignores that learning is about memory, and your ability to think is about what you can remember. Items get into your long-term memory when they are engaged in a ‘conversation’ between your working memory and your long term memory. Fascinating, isn’t it? What you are thinking about has to link to what you know already in order to be learned. When things are processed with clarity in your working memory they can move to a group of items stored for a particular use (schema) in your long-term memory.

Your working memory capacity is in fact very, very limited and is accepted as being able to process 7 plus or minus two items at any given time. This of course would be a major problem if all of those items were new. If however, you have some new items, and you can recall schema as the other items, then your working memory and your long-term memory can work together to produce very efficient outcomes. In short, when it comes to learning things the two major factors are the efficiency of your working memory, and how good the schema is in your long-term memory. What helps with the efficiency of your working memory? We will get to that in another blog, and in this one, we can have a quick dive into one app that helps you remember things. While ‘trying to memorise’ is important, ironically it is ‘trying to recall’ which does the best job of creating secure long-term memory (aka learning). (In case you are interested, students or parents who work with us have access to a list of apps we recommend for learning and brain improvement.) My favourite is Quizlet (one which was recommended by Anthony Davies) because it has such a simple and reliable approach to memorization. I want to be clear that memorization is only part of the process that leads to great learning, and there are many more aspects of thinking that create great learning. (See Bloom’s Taxonomy)

Having a strong foundation in accurate data is a critical part of the learning process. What I particularly like about Quizlet is how simple it is. When you check the factors that interfere with learning (extraneous cognitive load) you will see there are very few of them in this app.

When I have read something that I think is worth remembering I simply cut and paste the answer into Quizlet and generate a suitable question. I do this in folders in each area that I'm working on (my schema) and with a very, very simple process and good variety in tasks I can review each item until I regard it as learned. There is lots of useful self-testing – because testing is one of the best ways to learn. Simple enough?

If you want to really learn what is in this blog, play with the content in Quizlet https://quizlet.com/en-gb We do not receive any benefit from Quizlet from mentioning them here.


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