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Learning to Forget

Just today, I happened to be reviewing an old textbook for a course I took in college about learning styles. (Yes, tutors DO read). One chapter of the book intrigued me more than usual, it concerned the: Four Major Theories on Forgetting.

Retrieval. According to the Retrieval Theory, a forgotten fact has not faded; it has been misplaced in the "file cabinets" of our mind. Whether the information has disappeared completely, or has been lost, the result is the same – it has been forgotten. The secret to avoiding retrieval problems is to label and file information correctly. We can assist our memory by studying in "meaningful chunks."

Interference. The Interference theory is based on the principle of limited space in our short-term memory. As we keep adding new information, a conflict develops between the old and new information over the space available in our short-term memory. The key to avoiding this problem is to look for connections and relationships between ideas so that they can be "filed together" or combined. Ask yourself, "What do I already know about this?" Obviously if we have tried to “memorize” for a test – we end up with a jumble of facts.

Interactive interference. When we are learning a great deal of information at one time, we tend to remember best what is read or presented first and last. The rest gets lost in the shuffle. To avoid this problem, study one subject at a time, in meaningful chunks. CRAMMING = NO!

Finally, our attitude affects how well we learn and remember. We "shut out" information if we consider it boring or if we do not like the subject. To avoid this type of interference, set learning goals before you begin to read or study. If possible, link study goals to long – term career and educational goals. If we have chosen goals that match our personal strengths and interests, we will be able to get through even the most difficult and uninteresting classes because we will understand they are important steps in helping to meet our goals.

One way to make certain we maximize our learning potential and counter our tendency to forget is to get enough sleep! Sleep gives our brains a chance to sort things. Scientists are not exactly certain what type of organizing our brain does while we sleep, but they think that sleep is the time when the brain sorts and stores information, replaces chemicals, and solves problems.

We all try to “panic” learn at one time or another, but the rhetorical questions is: “Are we forgetting to learn, or learning to forget”?