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Do you recall what you learn or taught? Strategies for Retention

One of the major challenges facing any learner whether young or old, mature or immature, female or male is the ability to retain and recall what we learn. We have all experienced forgetfulness before in our lifetime – sometimes we forget an anniversary date, an appointment date and sometimes our own birthdays.  Even alarming is the fact many learners all over the world have one big headache – which is how to recall and retain what they have learnt or being taught.  But why do we forget in the first place?

According to one of the best known memory researchers in the world called Elizabeth Loftus, there are basically four (4) reasons why we tend to forget what we have been told, taught, learnt or aware. These are retrieval failure (1), interference (2), failure to store (3), and motivated forgetting (4).

In relation to retrieval failure, we sometimes feel that some piece of information we should know has just vanished into thin air from our memories and tried as we can we are unable to recall or remember. For instance, you will meet someone four years ago at a conference/training and share your contact but when you meet him/ her again, you can remember his/her face but unable to recall his/her name. This retrieval failure can be one of the major causes of forgetting and many of us have experienced it. The reason why this occurs is that the retrieval failure is as a result of theory known as decay theory. During the four years we may have formed or created new theories to memorise and as such the theory we created when we met the person at the conference/training four years ago has decayed and vanished from our memory. The remedy for this is that we need to from time to time refresh, retrieve and rehearse what has been memorized to make it relevant otherwise it will vanish or be lost from our memory system. Thus if we were calling or contacting this person every year, he/she will still be relevant in our memory system and as such we cannot forget their details.

Interference occurs when information already stored is conflicted with a new information similar to the one already stored is about to be stored too. This means that the new information will interfere with the already stored information.  This is known as the interference theory and it can be divided into two (2) namely proactive and retroactive where the former is when an old memory does not allow you to remember a new memory whilst the latter is when the new information interferes with the old information and you cannot easily recall the old one. The remedy is quite dicey but there is hope: you must do well to ensure that before you store any new information in your memory be sure that it won’t interfere with the previous one if you want to keep them both. Otherwise, the best advice is to forget the previous information stored in the memory before attempting to save and retain the new one.

To a large extent we are unable to retain and recall information because we did not store it into the long term memory due to our inability and failure to encode them properly into our system. When this happens it is highly likely that we shall be able to recall and retrieve any information because in the first place we did not store it. To remedy this situation, it is very important for the proper storage of information in the long term memory if we intend to recall and retrieve it in the future.

Lastly, information stored may be forgotten when we actively decide to suppress and forget them because in our decision they were tragic, traumatic, disturbing, and distressful. We are not ready to store let alone retrieve any tragic event such as an earthquake, floods, an accident and death etc.

Many researchers have concluded that learners learn through various methods and retain approximately the following percentages (%) what they have learnt via the following scenarios and setups based on a study by NTL Institute in Bethel, Maine they referred to as the Learning Pyramid:

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