always something to learn

Donald Taylor notes that, “everyone has a memory that is particularly attuned to learning some things very easily”. In his post, Donald says that the context in which we learn something, as well as how it is presented and received, are all important aspects of whether we will remember something.

“This was not a matter of super memory but of meaning. When shown a board not from a game, but with randomly arranged pieces, the masters fared no better than the beginners. They were unable to use their immediate appreciation of how the pieces related to each other to make sense of the position. It was like trying to memorize a poem with jumbled up words.” – Memory is more than Ebbinghaus

I came across the concept of memory chunking while working as a training development officer in the air force in the mid-1990’s. There was relatively new research that showed how experienced air traffic controllers (ATC) chunked, or categorized, the aircraft on their screens, so they could allocate their working memory to the more important or urgent matters. Even more interesting is the evidence that shows that pilots and ATC’s chunk differently.

“The way in which the information contained in a message is chunked depends on the person receiving the message: a pilot and ATCO are likely to chunk a message in rather different ways. This is due to the familiarity of each person and their professional experiences. It is also associated with the position of the person, either as the sender or the receiver … This illustrates that what may be familiar chunking by the controller is not necessarily familiar chunking by the pilot. The frequency for the next sector is used all the time by the controller and is one chunk for him, but this is not the same for the pilot. Vice versa, the call sign is much more familiar to the pilot than to the controller. A recommendation often made, associated with air-ground communications, is to limit the number of elements in a message to two to reduce the chance of an element being missed or misheard.” – Memory in ATC

People in the same environment will notice and remember different things in different ways. For those designing training programs, or supporting social learning in the workplace, this is an important phenomenon to consider. Memory is not linear. Remembering is not homogeneous.

Even more important is the understanding that we can develop better skills at chunking and other sense-making skills.

“Consciousness concerns itself only with the most meaningful mental constructions and is ever hungry to build new patterns over existing architectures. To help in this aim, it itches to combine and compare any objects in our awareness. How the brain supports consciousness closely mirrors these functions. Those specialist regions of the cortex that manage the processing endpoints of our senses—for instance, areas involved in recognizing faces, rather than merely the colors and textures that constitute a face—furnish our awareness with its specific content. But there is also a network of our most advanced general-purpose regions that directly draws in all manner of content from these specialist regions. This is the core network, incredibly densely connected together, both internally and across major regions throughout the brain. In this inner core, multiple sources of meaningful, potentially highly structured information are combined by ultra-fast brain rhythms. And this, neurally speaking, is how and where consciousness arises.” – Daniel Bor: The Ravenous Brain

These three examples show only a small part of the wonders of human memory and learning. If you consider yourself a learning professional, there will always be something new to learn.


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