FACTORS IN EFFECTIVE LEARNING RETENTION
I. LEVELS OF LEARNING RETENTION
(Note: These are not exclusively definable. They blend and overlap.)
No longer can be clearly recalled but continues making impressions upon thought.
Recallable through being exposed to stimulations associated with some previous cognitive function. Example: Traveling a road previously taken where things observed produce recall.
3. Short Term Recall
Example: Telephone numbers may be learned for a short time and then forgotten.
4. Long Term, or Permanent Recall
5. Reflexive Response
Response without needing to think about what to do.
Example: Many of the functions in driving an automobile become reflexive.
II. BASIC FACTORS AFFECTING RETENTION DEPTH
The force with which the lesson is impressed. The greater the intensity of the stimulation, the deeper the lesson is implanted. Impact may be either by stimulation of the senses or the emotions.
Examples: -A piece of ice down the back impacts the senses.
-Someone yelling, “FIRE!” may impact the emotions.
Active involvement increases learning because it more fully involves the whole person. The greater number and variety of stimulation fed from all parts of the person to the brain, and the resultant natural association, deepens and locks in the impression. Mental exercise such as problem solving, restatement or tests provide this in limited form. Further extending this through physical activity expands and increases retention.
This may be either passive or active.
Apathy is disinterest and results in low retention. It is usually due to lack of emotional “hook” to the situation. It may also be due to distractions, tiredness, hunger or being full, cold or too warm, or other physical limitations and impairments.
Passive learning is received with little exertion of the will. Interest is a measurement of this form of attention.
Absorption is high interest and is achieved when the emotions are so engaged that little or no effort is required to concentrate on the lesson. Effective teachers try to minimize the distractions and obstacles, and draw the student to this level.
Concentration causes active learning.
The student, through an act of will, focuses attention. Since things we need to learn do not always hold our interest, good students learn to exercise their “mental muscle” to understand and implant the lesson. Good teachers teach students to do this so that they will be able to do so when ideal circumstances are no longer available.
Incentive grows out of the motivations of the student. If the teacher can hook those motivations the student will follow. To do so, it is necessary to reach the students personal needs. To discover those one must know the student.
The brain has many pain or pleasure references. Incoming information is filtered and compared with what is stored so as to identify and respond. The results is formed into response patterns and stored for future reference.
When new information begins to fit an important response pattern the attention begins focusing which may trigger immediate action. A smell of smoke where it should not be may set off our alarm system. An unfamiliar sound in the dark may produce fear. The slam of a car door may signal that someone we are happy to see has arrived. All of these may be misleading but our response is due to comparison with those response patterns.
These response patterns form on the basis of previous positive and negative experiences and are given importance based on the impact of those experiences. They relate to pleasure or pain, security or insecurity, attraction or repulsion, threats or opportunity.
If the teacher can hook onto those drives and manipulate them effectively the student’s attention is increased. He is motivated to respond. An example might be the use of competition based on the student’s need to sustain identity within the group.
Our security patterns often relate to love, fear, joy, sorrow and other emotions which effect our learning. Because of these identifications, the teacher should take care to provide a catalyst to stimulate learning rather than become a central object in the learner’s security.
Curiosity is itself related to security. The mind, in its constant quest to evaluate security, continually reaches out for more information to reassure itself.
The successful teacher will harness this restless quest by providing positive reinforcement for favorable response and negative response for undesirable response. Likewise, the teacher helps identify the nature of the information received, whether it is beneficial or destructive.
The more thoroughly the person understands the lesson the better it will be retained. This is because it is well connected and related within the knowledge and experience reservoir of the student.
Moving from the known to the unknown, new information is compared with old, evaluated, and cross-related. Similarities and differences are identified. Importance in relation to security and desires is determined.
Examples may be sensory (seeing, hearing, smelling etc.), symbols (letters, words, numbers, sounds), size (depth, length, width) security, definitions, and contrasts (true or false, good or bad, big or little, young or old etc.)
Learning through association is done by comparison. We begin with the largest, best known or most important and move to the details, least known and least important. Likewise, recall begins with the greatest or best known and moves to the least or less important. Thus, successful teachers need to work from the known to the unknown, the greatest to the least, the most important to the least important. The student needs to first see the overall picture into which he can fit the lesser parts. An excellent example is that a jigsaw puzzle is easier to work if we see the picture first.
Illustrations are effective primarily because they provide association bridges from known information. The resultant points of association help comprehension and retention.
Organization is a more complex form of association. Instead of comparing new with old, to this is added points of reference within the new lesson its self.
Some types of organization are: Sequences, dimensions, depth, numbers, words, patterns, outlines, songs, poems, etc.
Organization is important because a group of related facts may be learned more easily and permanently than what is unrelated. That is why names of people are so difficult to retain. In forming a pattern, the components suggest each other and together provide many points of reference to tie to previously learned information. Thus, poems, songs and outlines are more easily learned than isolated dates and numbers.
A long list of information will usually be learned in an order beginning with the first few items, then the last few, followed by those following the first few and then those next to the last few. For this reason it is best to break larger groups into smaller of about seven to twelve. Fewer than five requires so little concentration that the depth of retention is often shallow. More than fourteen may be so cumbersome to learn that it is better broken into smaller segments. It is like the old question about how you eat an elephant -- “one bite at a time!”
Repetition is a process of cutting the mental groove deeper and deeper. Reviews, recitation and rote memorization are examples. It is important to lock this in with comprehension but properly used this is a very enjoyable and useful tool. Rote memory has been abused but it is a mistake to entirely discard it.
A chain of facts, learned by rote, can sometimes provide the shortest and most secure reference. Examples may be learning the alphabet, the times tables or books of the Bible.
Variation is relevant because if the same input is received too long the mind tends to turn it off and divert to monitoring other things. The student may become restless, distracted or drowsy. Even strong impulses, too long repeated, fatigue the receptor cells and turn down, tune out, or demand release.
Also, any set of stimulations, often repeated, become so familiar that the brain recognizes the first signals and jumps directly to a conclusion rather than going through the complete process of identification. Varying the input brings the mind to a greater level of alertness.
While variation is necessary to hold attention, too much may create confusion and apprehension. It is important that there be enough repetition to cut the grove deeply but we must have variation to keep the mind focused and processing the input.
Too much variation, if it becomes the accepted standard of security, may establish an unrealistic need for change. The result is inability to carry through with tedious responsibilities that are often necessary to success. The person is erratic and unreliable, never satisfied.
The person who is impatient for change is as emotionally crippled as the old moss back who rejects all change and clings futilely to the past. To their mutual detriment, one is irresponsible and the other obstructs progress. Excessive reliance upon change leaves the person dependent upon external stimulation rather than on their own drive.
K. Physical capability and readiness
Being healthy, physically and mentally capable, rested and alert go a long way in retaining input. Impaired hearing, seeing or mental defects, being too cold or too warm, struggling with some emotional or health problem--all may impair retention.
The teacher will want to do whatever possible to help the student to be physically prepared to study.
The setting for learning can play a significant roll. If the environment is mentally stimulating we learn better. If it is too warm, too cold, gloomy, or otherwise depressing, learning may be impaired.
Proximity to important places or events may hook one experience to another as points of reference to increase recall. It may be that the student’s interest has been aroused by something that raised a question or stimulated interest. We speak of this as the “learning moment.” It is well to watch for these opportunities and use wisely.
It is even better to create a learning environment by removing distractions and enriching it with stimulating ideas and circumstances. This does not necessarily require expensive classrooms. Jesus had none. He taught everywhere he went but he was a master at using the things around him as springboards to learning.
K. Time factors
Length stimulation continues and time between reinforcement bears upon retention.
Brief stimulation may be insufficient to fix retention. Too long of stimulation may be turned off unless very powerful. Long periods between may permit retention to fade. For example, in associating consequences with an act, it is important that it come as soon afterward as possible. Waiting “until daddy comes home” to discipline is not as effective as immediately taking care of it.
While it is good to have breaks and that the time between sessions not be too long, it is also good to occasionally have a longer interval between and then return. This helps avoid fatigue and also gives time to absorb and get a fresh look at the subject.
III. TEACHING OBJECTIVES
-Instill a love of learning
-Enable the student to reproduce the lesson
-Move the learner to action
-Condition proper responses
-Establish good habits
-Instill sound ideals
-Sharpen the reasoning ability
-Saturate with useful facts for future reference