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Ian Signer, M.A., New York, USA Abstract Informal educators have the ability to facilitate learning experiences that audiences will remember for a lifetime. This paper explores how current knowledge about brain function can inform the design and presentation of effective, memorable programs. What Do People Remember? Think of your most powerful memory. What were the elements that make it stand out? Whether it was something joyful or tragic, you’re likely to have remembered something that was associated with intense emotions. Now, think of your most memorable educational experience. Was it a field trip to a park? That time you nervously had to give a speech in front of the whole school? When you starred in the school play? Most likely it was also something that had strong emotional resonance. Emotions and Learning The relationship between emotion and learning is based in the physical anatomy of the brain, and its application to our basic survival. (Sousa, 2001) Every instant, you are taking in information through your five senses – from the color of the sky, to the texture of your clothing, to the background noise around you as you read this paper. In order to make sense of all this information, your brain filters out what it considers important and meaningful. For example, it may tune out the general noise of traffic as you walk on a busy street – but draw closer attention to a siren coming toward you. After this initial filter, your brain passes information through a series of stages before deciding whether to place it into long-term storage. Ultimately, your brain is wired to retain information that it considers directly related to survival. In the modern world, this could just as easily be the way to fill out your time slip at work as the color of a poisonous mushroom. Types of Memory In order to make sense of information, your brain employs several kinds of memory, represented metaphorically in the illustration below.(See Figure 1) After information goes through the senses, it may pass into a kind of short term memory called “immediate memory”. Let’s say you need to call the local post office. You look up the number, put it into immediate memory, dial, then forget it. Immediate memory generally lasts about 30 seconds, just long enough for you retain and use the information.
it’s generally agreed that working memory can store only a small amount of information to process at one time (See Figure 2 below). People are likely to remember anything with a strong emotional connection. 2001) If your brain considers the information more important. (Sousa. 1992) Generally. Number of Items An Individual Can Hold in Working Memory Age in years Minimum Maximum Average Younger than 5 1 3 2 5 – 14 3 7 5 Older than 14 5 9 7 Table 1 – Changes in Capacity of Working Memory With Age (adapted from Sousa. but remember almost none of the information a week later. 2001) From there. represented by the worktable. 1992). (Ham. researchers have identified a few general patterns that apply to long term storage of knowledge (Rose. (Sousa. The parts of the brain most active in regulating emotions (the amygdala and hippocampus) are also the most closely associated with the . where it is sometimes called the “7 plus or minus 2” rule. it has been shown that information in working memory can be stored up to 48 hours. This is what allows us to cram at the last minute for a big test and pass with flying colors. Authors such as Sam Ham have recognized this rule and applied it to informal education. Though there is some debate. information in working memory can be actively processed for only up to 20 minutes in adults without a loss of focus. Here. information that is considered more important is consciously processed for a short time.Figure 1 – How Information passes from the senses into long-term storage. what kinds of items pass into long term storage? Though there is still much to be discovered. it will go into a second kind of temporary memory called “working memory”. We tend to remember the best and worst events of our lives. 2001) However.
T. until there’s barely room to breathe? Have you been on a bus like that . References Ham. 1996 Creativity Inside Out: Learning Through Multiple Intelligences. it’s important to recognize that emotions (not information) are what most strongly influences learning. One way to help people remember information is by creating stories and drawing analogies between scientific concepts and things a learner is familiar with. represented by the file cabinet in the illustration.. NY. and excite your audience. Doubleday. As educators. information that makes good sense and is meaningful may pass into long term memory. AddisonWelsey. the more likely they are to remember what you teach. the more easily they can retrieve it in the future. As an educator. • Test no earlier than 48 hours after learning to see if information is in long-term storage. we can help not only craft programs that contribute to information stored in long-term memory. .. CA.. S. • Present no more than 3 main topics in a lesson for kids. In addition to strong emotional experiences. 5 for adults. 1992 Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. Marks-Tarlow. What happens when more people get on.processing and recall of information. The Making of Memory. 2001 How the Brain Learns Corwin Press. CO. Sousa. David A. Golden. The more times a person uses the information stored here. S. Applying Concepts The following tips will help you take advantage of what is known about how the brain processes information as you design programs: • Create lessons that incorporate strong positive emotional experiences • Incorporate rich sensory experiences. • Link what you’re teaching to what your audience is familiar with.how does it feel? What do you think happens when animals are pushed into smaller and smaller spaces. Rose. New York. when an area is pushed beyond its carrying capacity?” This example not only ties a common experience with a new concept – it also may evoke vivid sensory and emotional memories of being crammed in a crowded bus. delight. NY. New York. 1992. • Change pace every 20 minutes. For example: “How many people do you think could fit comfortably on a bus? We could call it this the ‘carrying capacity’. but that reinforce that information and help learners make use of it. The more you can surprise. North American Press. Thousand Oaks..