How we learn things, shapes our memory
Posted on 19th April 2022 at 08:03
We are constantly learning new things; from the minute we are born to the end of our days. This allows us to grow and adapt to daily events. Studies have shown that the way we learn actually affects the way we store memories.
Our ability to learn has helped us adapt to new situations throughout history – the development of the wheel through to Alan Turin’s computer and the NASA space programme. Learning is complex though, and there are all sorts of ways that we learn. The brain stores new information or updates old information (or a combination of the two – that’s a clever old brain!!)
According to scientists, learning occurs through either association and experience, or by reinforcement. Learning by association or experience is the type of learning we do when we encounter new things or need to navigate new things little by little in our everyday life. Reinforcement is when we actually set out to learn something new – when we start a course through Course Detective for instance.
When we learn, the way in which we do it, affects how the memory of what we have learned is stored in our brains. Sometimes it is by simple observation – like learning directions to a favourite place or learning about relationships between people. But sometimes we learn, because we choose it, we choose to study, or a child chooses to learn how a toy operates in their formative years. It seems that this latter type of learning (reinforcement) is stored for a longer period of time. While our experienced type of learning is actually more readily available for updating and could be seen to be a more fluid memory. Reinforced knowledge appears to “stick” too, the brain doesn’t forget it, even when it becomes irrelevant. Think for instance of a song that you deliberately learnt the lyrics to, when you were young? – they are still there, aren’t they? Even if you don’t realise, they are, if you heard that song again, you’d remember the lyrics! In the same way anything learnt incidentally through association is easier to forget than that learnt deliberately. For example, you might watch something new on TV but the next day you will have forgotten what it was about! (It’s worse in my case – with the ageing process coming into play!!)
With all of that said then, studying because you choose to, means that your brain stores that information differently and for a longer period of time. So, whatever you choose to study, at whatever age, you can bet you will hold onto that learning through your memories for a very long time!
Thank you to the studies of Maria Cohurt PhD (2019) for some of the information in this blog.
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