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Types of memory – how to remember what we have learned

Types of memory

We learn through all of our lives – it is not only a kind of folk wisdom, a truth passed down by older generations. Lifelong learning has been even defined by UNESCO. But how to actually remember what we learned at school, during studies, during various types of courses, training, webinars? It will be easier to cope with this task if you learn about the functioning of different types of memory first – this knowledge will also help in learning languages.

There are several types of memory

The matter is a little more complicated: there is no such thing as one big reservoir called memory. There are many systems describing the memory mechanism. The Atkinson and Shiffrin storage system is one of them and distinguishes three main types of memory and describes the interaction between them. It assumes that our memory is divided into three storages that are dynamically related to each other. These 3 storages are:

  • sensory memory (ultra-short-term memory, sensory memory, USTM),
  • short-term memory (working, fresh, STM),
  • long-term memory (LTM).

Let’s take a closer look at the structures that Atkinson and Shiffrin identified and described:

Sensory memory

All the pieces of information we pick up with our senses get into the sensory memory block. It has a literal form: if we remember the information recorded by the auditory canal, it has an echoic form (i.e. we literally remember this sound for a short time). If we have registered a given thing through the visual channel, we literally remember the recorded image for a short time. This block stores visual data for up to 0.5 seconds and sounds for up to 2 seconds.

Due to the very short duration of information being stored in the sensory memory, another name by which this block operates is ultra-short memory. It has a large volume but is also constantly bombarded with new stimuli, most of which have no chance of being remembered. Only data that our brain for some reason considered important is entered into short-term memory. This means that information that we have paid more attention to is transferred to short-term memory storage, although it is worth noting that we are unaware of this process.

Short-term memory, or working memory

This type of memory is also not responsible for the long storage of information: the time of their storage in a block of short-term memory is several dozen seconds. It also does not have a large volume. It is able to store 7 +/- 2 units of information simultaneously. If more information flows into short-term memory, the part of it is automatically eliminated or generalized.

Of course, some data stays with us for a longer time – it is transferred to the long-term memory area. This process, unlike filtering information in sensory memory, is conscious. The deliberate fixation of stimuli held in short-term memory and their transfer to long-term memory is called memory consolidation. How do we remember what we have learned? Repetition is key. In the memorization process, active repetition can be used, and it consists, say, of repeating a specific material aloud many times. Another method of transferring information into long-term memory is elaborate repetition, which involves linking new information with the knowledge we already have. One example of this is remembering through associations. So if you want to remember, say, an address, it is worth associating it with a story from your life, with an expressive event that is firmly remembered.

The repetition frequency is also very important in the process of remembering what we have learned. You can find out about it, e.g. by using the SuperMemo application, which increases the absorption of the material by using the spaced repetition system – the algorithm adjusts the frequency of repetitions to the individual predispositions of a given person.

However, do learned and rembembered pieces of information remain in long-term memory? Let’s look at this most capacious type of memory.

Long-term memory

If the computer analogy is used in the comparison of short-term and long-term memory, the short-term memory is similar to RAM memory, while the long-term memory should be called a hard disk. We register information on it, which are then downloaded as needed by the working memory. The long-term memory block has a huge volume. Information that is already there is stored for a very long time, to simplify it – for life. Everything we have truly learned and remembered is kept in this storage. There are both geographical concepts, rules of English grammar, math skills and memories from your first mountain hiking.

Long-term memory is divided into declarative and non-declarative memory, although scientists do not agree on a detailed division. Declarative memory is a type of memory containing facts that can be communicated verbally, that is, answering the question “what”. Depending on whether it is school knowledge or an autobiographical event, semantic and episodic memory is distinguished within it. Non-declarative memory is primarily the “how” memory – say, how to drive a car or how to tie shoes. If we were to look for practical examples, the knowledge of the phrase “roller skating” would be classified as semantic memory, memories from the last roller skating are our episodic memory, and the ability to ride them belongs to the area of ​​non-declarative memory.

How do we remember what we have learned?

Memorization is the creation of a long-term memory trace. This process takes place at the long-term memory level. In the neurological and physiological sense, this corresponds to the transition from the impermanent bioelectric memory trace to the permanent one, which is biochemical. Thus, the segment between short-term and long-term memory is crucial for remembering.

What causes some information to recede into oblivion, and some to pass into permanent memory structures? The processes that cause information to move from the volatile level to the persistent level in a block of long-term memory are:

  • repetition – the process we mentioned earlier,
  • organizing – that is arranging into logical sequences and structures,
  • verbalization – that is, giving a verbal form,
  • imagination – that is, image, kinesthetic and emotional associations,
  • concentration.

How to apply them? Modern techniques of quick learning are perfect for this, e.g. multisensory memory techniques or Mind Mapping, which is a technique that organizes knowledge and facilitates remembering. This technique consists in creating the so-called mind map. In their centre, we put a basic concept, an issue that we want to assimilate, and then we add branches to it, presenting (most often using keywords) more detailed issues.

Knowledge of short-term and long-term memory as well as the functioning of the brain contributes to the production of new methods of acquiring knowledge. We also use them when creating SuperMemo courses. We use intelligent revisions, but also by creating multimedia courses, we stimulate many senses, which makes remembering easier. Being richer in knowledge about the meanders of memory makes it easier to consciously choose more effective learning paths.