Learning and Short-Term Memory

Provided you have paid attention to a perception, for less than one-half second, that piece of information has been moved, by sensory memory, to short-term memory. That perceived piece of information has begun its journey to being learned.  Remember one component of learning is to store information in long-term memory.  Short-term memory is important in providing the final push to move information into long-term memory.

Short-term memory, as its name implies, is a memory which decays or degrades very quickly, but not as quickly as sensory-memory.  Most of the information kept in short-term memory will be stored for approximately 20 to 30 seconds, but it might be just a few seconds or as long as a minute.

Short-term memory is also very limited in its capacity.  In 1956 the cognitive psychologist George Miller reported that the average individual could retain between five and nine items in short-term memory.  Current researchers believe that an individual can retain four chunks of information in short-term memory.

So whatever role short-term memory plays in the learning process, it is restricted to very few items for a very limited time.

Short-term memory has two major tasks:

  1. It decides what information should be retained, and
  2. It encodes (prepares) that information for storage in long-term memory.

These two actions will be the topic for the next two days.

ASIDE: Here is a thought: if you are trying to learn math and you are surrounded by distractions like conversation, texting, TV, music, etc.  What will win out in the battle for attention and space in short-term memory?

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