I recently headed to Olympia in London to attend the Learning Technologies Summer Forum. A one day conference which focuses on the learning needs of corporate and public sector learning.
Making it memorable
Rather than review each session I thought I’d just focus on one - Dr Julia Shaw's session on memory - "Make it memorable - tools from a memory scientist".
I think this session attracted the biggest audience of the conference, possibly because the majority of the audience were over 40 and hoping that Julia would help them overcome the problem of remembering where they left their car keys!
The session started by focusing on myth busting memory 'facts'. Things like it is probably impossible to have a memory of anything before the age of 3 (2.5 in extremely rare cases), short term memory lasts anything from 30 seconds to a lifetime and the fact that the only reliable thing about your memory is that it is unreliable.
Your memory is so unreliable that you are likely to borrow and adopt memories from others and it is commonplace for people to have completely false memories. So when someone is exaggerating or talking rubbish about something you saw, they may not be lying, they just have a different memory of things. The memory is so flawed that Julia's research has proved that false memories can be implanted and people really believe they were involved in fictitious events. (Click here to view Julia's research activities)
How can we have authentic memories of events and experiences? It's simple, write stuff down, ideally as soon as possible.
Writing on a piece of paper, is for some unknown reason, the most effective way to support memory retention. Now if the act of writing by hand is the secret then that’s great. I believe that reflecting on the activity and seeing the activities in a wider context helps me remember. Writing something down and then losing the bit of paper isn’t going to help me much. I know this from countless trips to the supermarket when I’ve forgotten my hand crafted shopping list!
Most people seem to always have their phone within reach so instead of a pen and paper using an app on a smartphone probably makes the recording process more convenient. If you are using a platform to store your notes and reflections it will probably let you tag the items as you create them, so you can search and organise things more effectively.
The important element for me is to create the record as close to the activity as possible. With short term memory being potentially only 30 seconds, the closer to the activity, the more reliable the record is going to be. It's not just me though the Code for Nursing and Midwifery practitioners are told to "Keep clear and accurate records relevant to your practice" which includes guidance on the best way to achieve this is to "complete all records at the time or as soon as possible after an event, recording if the notes are written sometime after the event".
Recording an activity is just the start in a learning context. Reflecting on the impact or significance of any given activity is an important part of the experiential learning process. The benefits of reflecting on activities are well documented, so if the recording of the activity involves a short reflective element then I’d suggest that the memory may well be enhanced. If I’m recording and reflecting on lots of activities through the year, what do I do with them all? Maybe look at them and see how they join up or have common themes? Possibly use them to support appraisal processes.
Diachronicity is the term for seeing how things link together and develop over time. For me this is what professional development is all about.
We are unlikely to learn things in a single hit, nor do we leap forward as a result of attending a course. However, when we look back we know that we are better informed and hopefully more knowledgeable than we were a year ago. Change has taken place. This is most likely via a large number of small steps that are invisible to us. If we could see these elements, review them periodically, organise them into some kind of collection and encourage a meta-reflection on the whole lot, then maybe we can start to get a clearer picture of what we have actually learnt, how we learnt it and how we have moved forward.