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Chapter 12
Theories of Learning





How we retrieve something from long term memory depends on how well we stored it in the first place.


If the information was stored in a well organized fashion, retrieval may be relatively easy. (Relate attic storage as an illustration)


       All Books together                                All Furniture in a section

       All clothes together                               Tools in a particular section







Look at the list of Words I have listed below for just a few minutes without writing any of them down.



          Pen                        Doctor                       Knife              Table                     


          Rose                       Mountain                  Shirt               Paper  


          Soldier                   Diamond                   Fork                Shoe                                





How many of the words can you recall?  Let me give you some categories that might help you.




            Writing Supplies           Gemstone                      Land Forms           Profession


             Flower                           Eating Utensils             Clothing                Furniture


The category names should have helped you remember more of the words because all 12 words fall into those categories.  Such associate cues are related to the words you were searching for, as such, they should direct your search toward relevant parts of your long term memory.




Over time, people remember less and less about the events they have experienced and the information they have acquired. Forgetting or information loss can occur in several ways: 



Failure to Retrieve


Construct Error

Failure to Store


Lets look at each of these separately:




Unfortunately, no evidence confirms the permanence of any long term memory: Research findings do not (and quite possibly cannot) demonstrate that all information stored in long term memory remains there for the life of the individual. 


In fact, some theorists believe that information loss due to such factors as interference or an inability to retrieve causes information to decay or fade, particularly when that information is not used.  (Lets look at several factors that create difficulty or play a role in Forgetting)




You can probably think of occasions when you couldnt remember something at on time yet recalled it later on.  Clearly, then, the information was still in Long Term Memory; you just couldnt retrieve it the first time around.


Failure to retrieve is most likely to occur when people neglect to search that part of Long Term Memory storing the desired information.  Given appropriate cues, they may eventually find what they are looking for.




Vivid recollection of where we were and what we were doing when we heard certain news is common.  I certainly can and perhaps you can too recall where I was and what I was doing when John Kennedy was assassinated, when we first landed on the Moon, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the beginning of the first Gulf War.


But in some situations we may receive news or have an experience that is so painful or emotionally distressing that we tend not to remember it at all.  This phenomenon, known as repression, was first described by Sigmund Freud (1915 1957).




Construct error can occur at either storage (learning erroneously constructed information) or retrieval (possible because of decay, interference, or learner remembering something that was never presented in the first place).  In other words, the individual just never got the story right from the beginning.





A final explanation of forgetting is the fact that some information may never have been learned or stored.  We have all experiences working on a very long and important document on the computer and neglect to save it.  Consequently, when we go back to retrieve the information or document, there is nothing there because we never saved or stored it in memory before we closed out our computer.  





As a way o summing up our discussion of long term memory lets review certain principles and how they might be useful in helping students learn and remember classroom subjects matter more effectively over the long run.


  • Meaningful learning is more effective than rote learning:


Meaningful learningassociating new information with things that have already been learned promotes effective storage and more successful retrieval than rote learning.  Unfortunately, some educators seem to forget this basic principle.  All too often, classroom instruction and assessment methods emphasize the learning of classroom material at a verbatim level, with little or no regard for its underlying meaning.


  • Meaningful learning can occur only when the learner has relevant prior knowledge to which to relate new material:


Students have considerable difficulty learning and remembering material that does not overlap with their existing knowledge.


  • The internal organization of a body of information facilitates its storage and retrieval:


When material is presented in an organized fashion, students are more likely to store it in a similar organizational network.  And when information in long term memory is organized, it can be more easily retrieved.



  • In most situations, elaboration facilitates storage and retrieval:


Asking students to talk about academic subject matter, perhaps within the context of a class discussion or cooperative learning activity, almost forces them to do something (mentally) with that material


  • Occasionally, elaboration leads to the learning of misinformation:


Teachers must continually monitor students understanding of classroom material, perhaps by asking questions, assigning regular homework, or giving occasional quizzes and then take steps to correct any misinterpretations that students response reveal.


  • Information that must be retrieved within a particular context should be stored within that context:


People are most likely to retrieve information relevant to a situation when they have stored it in close association with other aspects of that situation.  It they have stored it elsewhere, they are much less likely to stumble on it at times when it will be useful.  Thus, information should be stored with retrieval in mind.


  • Periodic review and practice promote easier retrieval:


Occasional repetition of learned information over a long period time (days, weeks, or months) does facilitate retrieval of that information.  Teachers, then, might find it helpful to have students review and practice important material throughout the school year, perhaps by integrating that material into the context of new lessons.



  • Students memories will probably never be totally reliable records of information:


Long term memory storage and retrieval are both constructive processes and therefore will always be fallible.  Students memories can undoubtedly be improved, but they will probably never be perfect.





Retrieval from long term memory appears to be a process of searching. in one location at a time, until the desired information is found. 


Numerous explanations have been offered for why people forget things they have presumably learned.  Possibilities include decay, interference, failure to retrieve, repression and failure to store information in the first place.



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