LTM Encoding: From STM to LTM

 Solving the encoding problem: How to get information from STM to LTM (Hint: The key is to actively transform the information).

The way to solve the encoding problem is not by using Type 1 (maintenance/rote) rehearsal.

Type 1 (maintenance rehearsal) involves: things over and over.


Evidence that Type 1 rehearsal (also called maintenance rehearsal) is not effective for moving information to LTM: In some studies, repeating things over and over does not improve recall. For example, even though you have seen pennies thousands of times, you may not be able to draw one from memory. You may not even be able to pick the correct penny out of a line-up of fakes. (So, maintenance rehearsal is a tried--but not true--way of remembering information. To slightly overstate things, what some students call "memorizing" isn't memorizing!)

Reason that Type 1 rehearsal is not effective for moving information to LTM: It does not recode the information to make it meaningful or visual. (This short animation may help you remember that Type 1 rehearsal usually recycles information back into STM rather than moving that information into LTM.)

     To get information into LTM efficiently, you must connect the new information to information already in your memory. As psychologists would say, you should encode the information by using Type 2 rehearsal (also called elaborative rehearsal)

Specifically, in elaborative rehearsal (Type 2 rehearsal), you think about the information to add to it (to elaborate on it) in one of two ways:

1. Make information 
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Implications for aging and memory:

  • As you get older, your semantic memory should improve because it should be easier to make information meaningful. It should be easier to make information meaningful because making information meaningful involves connecting new information to old information and, as you age, you should have more old information to which you can connect new information. Partly for this reason, some schools prohibit juniors and seniors from taking introductory courses.
  • Similarly, studying hard in your introductory courses should make it easier for you when you need to learn new information in your advanced courses (because you have more "old information" to connect to the new information).

Implications for in-class behavior and note-taking:

  • Because making information meaningful involves both (a) working to connect new bits of information to each other in a way that makes sense to you and (b) working to connect the new information to what you already know, borrowing someone else's notes (even the professor's!) is no substitute for being in class and taking your own notes. If you skip the mental work of elaborative rehearsal, you miss out on retaining the information.
  • Because elaborative rehearsal involves thinking, unless the professor is going pretty fast, do not just copy down what the professor says. Instead, think, then write--and realize that what you do write down without thinking will be worthless until you think about it. So, if you skip thinking about something in lecture, be sure to make up for that lapse by thinking about that information especially deeply when you study it.
  • To encourage elaborative rehearsal during class, be mentally active in class by trying to (1) think of the answer to any question the professor asks,  (2) think about how the information in the lecture relates to the information in the previous lecture, and (3)  think about how a professor's story, example, or demonstration connects to an important point.
  • To make the information meaningful, relate the lecture's ideas and examples to yourself or to people you know.

Implications for studying:

  • Because elaborative rehearsal involves making information meaningful, read through your notes shortly after class to make sure they make sense. If parts don't make sense, try to fill them in using the book, the internet, or a friend's notes.
  • Because elaborative rehearsal is an active process that requires hard mental work, you should study in a place without distractions and at a time when you have energy and focus. So, studying in bed is a bad idea--and, for many students, studying during the day is much more effective than studying at night (However, a quick review of the information before going to bed may help consolidation). Similarly, studying right after you get up is usually not very effective--you will usually need  to be up for at least an hour before your mind fully wakes up.
  • Because memorizing often involves making information meaningful, understand information before trying to memorize it. (To see an example of how making a paragraph meaningful makes it more memorable, read this short blog entry or try to memorize this story). In other words, a friend's well-meaning advice-- "Don't understand it, just memorize it"--is bad advice because meaningless information is very hard to remember: Imagine having to learn pages of  words from a language you didn't know (like this) or having to learn pages of "nonsense syllables" like these: "XOV" "BEF", and "KUQ". (For an example of how hard meaningless information is to memorize, see the man who couldn't remember his wife's name.)
  • Should you listen to the lecture first or read the text first? To answer this question, realize that  (a) you need to understand information to make it meaningful and (b) you usually need to make information meaningful to memorize it. So, if you are having more trouble understanding the text than understanding the lectures, you may wish to hear the lectures before reading the text--although I would still advise at least skimming the chapter before before going to class. If, on the other hand, you are having more trouble understanding the lectures than you are understanding the text, you should definitely read the text before coming to class.
  • Thinking critically about what you are studying will help your memory for that information because elaborative rehearsal is thinking.
  • Skim the chapter before reading it so you can see how the chapter's information might be meaningful and so that you can activate memories for information already in your memory that you will be able to associate with information in the chapter.
  • Because meaningful information tends to be specific rather than general (In some studies, participants are twice as likely to remember specific statements rather than general statements), refine your notes by converting abstract, general statements into concrete, specific examples.


3 general strategies for adding meaning to course material.

1.Come up with your own   as well as coming up with or finding analogies that make sense to you (e.g., think of LTM as being like a library).

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2. Ask questions such as how is the new information    to and how is it different from what you have already learned?

Attempt number

For example, ask "How is Sensory Memory similar to STM--and how it is different?" or "How does this information relate to the last lecture or last reading assignment?" You could also ask "Why is this information important?", "Why should I believe--or not believe--this?", or "Is there a better way to organize this information?" In general,  asking and answering "why" and "how" questions will help you--especially in more advanced classes.

3.  Make the information personally meaningful by putting the new information in your own words. One way to force yourself to put information in your own words is to tell other people what you have learned. So, the next time your parents ask you about school, you can study by telling them what meaningful things you learned in class. In addition to putting information in your own words, summarize it. Summarizing material forces you to think about what the most meaningful and important points are. 


2. Make the information
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Two implications for how you should study:

  1. Making simple diagrams or even making almost illegible doodles of concepts can help your memory for course material (so don't be afraid to add doodles to your notes or flashcards). More elaborate visuals, such as cartoons, timelines, infographics, concept maps (also called "mind maps"), and sketchnoting can be even more helpful.
  2. Do not skip diagrams and visuals in your text. Instead, go through the chapter at least once looking only at its visuals.
Quotes to motivate you to add pictures to what you are learning and to help you remember "picture power":

To impress yourself by seeing your own mind's amazing ability to remember images,

Other evidence for the power of images:

(I will discuss mnemonic devices in more depth later, but you can skip ahead by clicking here. )
As you have seen, the more you think about the information (i.e., the more you recode information or add to that information), the more likely it is to get into memory. The depth of processing approach (also called the levels-of-processing approach) focuses on the memory benefits of thinking deeply about information. For example, levels-of-processing research has made it clear that deeper processing of words--thinking about a word's meaning and its relevance to you-- leads to better memory of those words than shallow processing (e.g., superficial processing such as merely noticing whether the word is in all capital letters, has two vowels, or rhymes with another word). Some advocates of the depth of processing approach have acted like there is just one memory system, but that shallow processing puts the information on the surface of memory where it can easily be blown away whereas deeper processing anchors the information deeper in memory. That is, rather than thinking of you having information in 3 different memories (sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory), some people would think of you having one memory in which information can be planted at different depths in memory--and  the more deeply information is rooted, the longer it will be remembered.  Looking at this diagram will help you see the idea behind the one memory with different levels approach.

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