How to use brain science to make learning stick

What is memory?

We still don’t know how exactly human memory works. Memory is the faculty of the brain to encode, store and retrieve information when it is needed. In very simple terms, memory can be divided into two categories: long-term and short-term memory.

Short-term memory keeps limited items for a very short period of time – from several seconds to several minutes.

Unlike short-term memory, long-term memory keeps “processed” items. Long-term memory is divided into episodic and semantic.

Episodic memory is a personal experience of an individual, it is a collection of past personal experiences that occurred at a particular time and place.

Semantic memory, unlike episodic memory refers to general world knowledge that we have accumulated throughout our lives. It stores information more or less common to all people, including semantic (meaning) and lexical (words) information, as well as facts about the world.

Main processes in human memory

Human memory, unlike computer memory changes over time, it is dynamic. Many factors affect for how long information will be retained in memory, but the most important factor is repetition. The memory system consists of the following elements:

  • Encoding: encoding is a biological phenomenon that includes perception as well as initial storage in memory. It is encoded and stored with the help of neurons. Neurons are the basic means of information transfer within the nervous system.
  • Storage: storage is a systematic gain of new information, that include processing and absorption. Without this brain function learning is impossible. Also, storage plays a crucial role in thinking and speech.
  • Retrieval: retrieval is the mental process of representation and recall the information from the past. During retrieval, the brain "replays" a pattern of neural activity that was originally generated in response to a particular event, echoing the brain's perception of the real event. In fact, there is no real solid distinction between the act of remembering and the act of thinking.
  • Forgetting: forgetting is also a memory process. It is a spontaneous or gradual process in which old memories are unable to be recalled from memory storage. Forgetting can partial and full.

What is Ebbinghaus Curve?

Forgetting is a complex and non-liner process. In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist discovered the forgetting curve, which shows how much is information is retained in human memory over time. In the first hours the amount of information retained in memory disappears at an exponential rate, i.e. you lose most of it in the first couple of days, after which the rate of loss tapers off. In just 10 hours we retain in memory 35% of what was learned. Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that:

  • the forgetting curve is initially very steep, the amount of knowledge retained drops almost straight down,
  • clear and thought over information is retained in memory 9 times better,
  • repetition helps to deliver knowledge in the long-term memory faster,
  • serial-position effect: we remember the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst,
  • relevant knowledge or knowledge that learners know they would use in the future is remembered faster,
  • there is a universal formula to develop for optimum repetition sequences.

Later studies added new aspects: professionals who get new knowledge in their areas and can put it into context, remember more information for longer time than people new to this field of knowledge.

Practical application of brain science

As 2/3 of knowledge or information we gain is lost in the first 10 hours it is important to set up a repetition session just after you ‘ve obtained new information and knowledge. Research in memory psychology suggests having several sessions. The optimal schedule for two days:

  • first repetition – right after you gained new information,
  • second repetition – 20 minutes after the first,
  • third repetition – 8 hours after the second,
  • fourth repetition – 24 hours after the third.

If you need to remember information for longer:

  • first repetition – right after you gained new information,
  • second repetition – 20 minutes after the first,
  • third repetition – 1 day after the second,
  • fourth repetition –2-3 weeks after third,
  • fifth repetition – 2-3 month after fourth.

The more active is the form of repetition, the better. For example, it is better to recall what you have read and peek into the book. If you need to process a large amount of information, it is better to set sessions with different levels of detail. First time – work through full text, second – key findings, third time – full amount of knowledge in different order. The more varied the forms of presentation the better and minimum three repeating sessions are needed.

SNAPSIM™ algorithm sets review sessions for users designed for maximum retention -1,3,7 days. This methodology allows to remember up to 92% of all information.

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