How We Connect the Dots

The more varied your experience is, the more “dots” – or memory traces – you can connect in your brain. How does this work?

According to Dr. Randall O’Reilly and Dr. Jerry Rudy, professors at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Cognitive Science, the hippocampus in our brain is responsible for binding together memory traces (i.e., connecting the dots) into what they call conjunctive representations.

Another way to think of this term, conjunctive, is the word “and.” A conjunctive representation is a symbolic network of memory traces that includes Experience A and Experience B and Experience C and Experience D andandandand.

As an example, let’s say we hear the sirens of a fire truck. The symbol “fire truck” is activated in the hippocampus, which links to a network of individual experiences we have had associated with a fire truck (e.g., chimney fire, pancake breakfast at fire house, 9/11/2001, neighbor’s house on fire, and hundreds of other related experiences).

This is one of many ways on how we connect the dots. The learning tip here is that for a given concept you want to teach, offer multiple experiences around that one concept as a way to enhance their learning.

About Parker Grant, PhD

Parker Grant is the founder of Instructional Design Industry, an online community for learning designers, instructional designers, and many other learning professionals (new and experienced). Parker holds a PhD in Adult Learning and a MS in Educational Technology. His consulting firm, Learning Connects, continues to offer learning design and development services.

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