Active Learning: ‘Do and I will remember’.

You keep forgetting the name of that song you’ve heard on the radio at least 4 times…

You have asked your partner about it ‘again and again’, but for some reason, you just can`t recall it! You know the band; the name of the song is on the ‘tip of your tongue’, but you struggle to remember. It frustrates you to no end!

Sound familiar?

Perhaps for you it’s not about a song, but rather the name of an actor, or a restaurant you have been meaning to try out. Regardless, we can all relate to this experience in some way; we can forget things that shouldn`t be that difficult to remember!

So why does this happen?

In reality, there are many different explanations as to why this occurs, but the major cause is related to a concept that I will address. Most will say it’s just because of ‘poor memory’…

I suppose that this is half correct. However, the problem often occurs well before recall – it has more to do with how we process (i.e. learn) this information in the first instance. In many ways, memory is a direct reflection of the quality of processing, rather than just a simple inability to recall information! So poor memory is often due to a poor learning strategy!

In the case of asking your partner the same question (over and over again), from a learning perspective, this is a ‘passive’ way of processing information. Thus, little effort is being exerted to seek the answer (asking others for the answer is the ‘lazy option’), there’s reliance on only one source of information (your partner’s answer), and only one engaged sense when others tell you the answer (your ears).  Therefore,

Passive learning = Limited information processing = Poor memory!

On the other hand, ‘Active’ learning essentially puts the responsibility on the learner, as opposed to solely relying on the teacher. In other words, it encourages learners to do more than just listen; they must be engaged in the learning process in a way which involves them ‘doing’ – hence the term ‘active’.

Engagement in active learning is therefore paramount. One must seek to exert effort in the information processing stage, try to use multiple sources of information, and involve as many senses and learning styles (i.e. different ways of processing information) as possible. So it should be of no surprise then that the other side of the coin is as follows;

Active learning =Improved information processing = Better memory!

So getting back to our example of trying to remember that song…

If we were to instead ‘look up’ the name of the song, let’s say by ‘googling’ the band’s name, we are more likely to remember the name of the song. This is because we would be, a) more ‘actively’ exerting effort, b) exposing ourselves to numerous mediums and sources along the way, and c), using more senses (i.e. ‘touch’ to type, ‘eyes’ to read, and ‘ears’ to listen out for the song)! The learning process will be much more enriched!

So what next then?

Perhaps changing our attitude to learning is a critical first step should we want to overcome the frustrations of forgetting something so seemingly simple. Understanding the true realities of effective learning (i.e. passive learning is often ineffective), means that we may be less likely to succumb to the easier path and bother our partner with the same question; over and over again!

Please share this post if you found it interesting! Maybe you have a forgetful partner, colleague or friend who may be able to relate…

(Only if I could ignore my wife’s voice in my head suggesting that I take my own advice)!

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