Utilizing Memory Systems

While human brains have potentially unlimited storage capacity by means of long term memory, all new learning must firstly negotiate working memory, which has a very limited capacity of around 7 plus or minus two bits of information. As Clark & Lyons (2004) point out:

…it is in working memory that active mental work, including learning, takes place. Working memory is the site of conscious thought and processing, and long-term memory is a relatively inert repository for our knowledge and memories. (p.48)

It is essential, therefore, that information is presented in manageable chunks and learners are given the necessary time to make meaning of it, transfer it effectively from working to long term memory and periodically review it in order to consolidate long term memory.

Furthermore, while memory work is often maligned in the present literature, it is in memory that our key understandings are created and developed to build understanding that is fundamental to effective learning. It is not surprising that Kircher et al (2006) concluded that:

…long term memory is now viewed as the central dominant structure of human cognition. Everything we see, hear and think about is critically dependent on and influenced by our long-term memory. (Pp.3-4)

Research clearly shows that a major factor that differentiates experts from novices is that expert problem-solvers are able to draw on the vast knowledge bases in their LTM and quickly select the best approach and procedures for solving a given problem. As Kircher et al further argued:

We are skillful in an area because our long-term memory contains huge amounts of information concerning that area. That information permits us to quickly recognize the characteristics of a situation and indicates to us, often unconsciously, what to do and how to do it. (p.4)

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