Memory Retrieval Aids Learning

Do you remember the rule for dividing improper fractures? I didn’t and had to sneak off and Google it behind my kid’s back.

This is because I wanted to retain my reputation as the knower of all things.

We all have stored tons of information in our brains over the years. Most people don’t think too much about the processes involved in memory retention or how the brain retrieves that information in the future. In fact, most people probably view the brain as merely a collection of static stored bits of information learned over time in which the brain presents back to us upon request. But the act of memory retrieval (even attempted and failed retrieval works- read the study below for more on that) itself is the key to improving learning outcomes: the act of accessing one’s knowledge enhances one’s knowledge.

That’s right, retrieving knowledge in the present improves your ability to retrieve and use that knowledge again to help you problem solve in the future. It turns out memory retrieval is not a static or neutral event. Every time you recall something, your memory of it is enhanced and your ability to recall it in the future is increased. This feature of enhancement is an advantageous characteristic of our memory system, in that the ability to successfully reconstruct knowledge in the present will improve your ability to solve similar problems in the future (Kornell, 2009).

So remember this tip and be sure you include periodic questions in your instructional design plans. Keep your learner engaged by accessing their internal knowledge bank to improve their learning outcomes and help them continue to learn more in the future.

Download a PDF of a study that explores how even unsuccessful retrieval improves your memory and ability to problem solve in the future.

Tamara Devereux

About Tamara Devereux

Tamara has been training, creating courses and managing teams for more than fifteen years. She is both an instructional designer and a Storyline/Captivate developer. Tamara holds an MA in Instructional Design and an MS in Management. Most recently she has been inspired by gamification, engaging thought leaders online in MOOCs, blogs and industry websites.

What are your thoughts?