Learning, Remembering and Forgetting

‘In the past several decades, cognitive psychologists have determined that there are two primary memory systems in the human mind: a short-term, or “working,”…and a long-lasting memory’ (Vogel and Drew, 2008).

Fleming’s Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinaesthetic (VARK) theory suggests that every child has a different method of learning, and a different way of perceiving things they are taught. When a child is exposed to their preferred method of learning, pathways are opened to their short-term memory, where information is stored. (Ambreenalwani, 2012)

Many scientist believe there are three ways to store memories, sensory, short-term and long-term memory. (Mohs, 2007) The same principle is applied with learning.

Sensory memory is the ‘initial process of storing information that is perceived through our senses’ It does not last long, continuously being replaced.

Short-term memory allows you to recall information for a few seconds, its capacity is limited and relies on encoding information. Miller’s magic number seven goes with short-term memory, suggesting that we can store 7+-2 pieces of information at one time in short-term memory (Miller, 1955). Atkinson and Shiffrin (1971) suggest ‘control processes act within short-term working memory to make decisions and regulate information flow, thereby controlling learning and forgetting.’ Braddeley and Hitch (1974) proposed the working memory theory, after studying Shiffrin’s model in 1968. Their model consisted of three main sections, the central executive which is the control and it has two elements, one is the visual spatial sketchpad – you can only think of one thing, the other is the phonological loop – this is seen only in your short-term working memory. The other two are the supervisory system and the slave system.

This is supported by the Cognitive Load Theory which Artino (2008) describes as learners having a working memory with limited capacity when dealing with new information (Sweller, van Merriënboer, & Paas, 1998). Van Merriënboer and Ayres (2005) assumes that learners have “an effectively unlimited long-term memory holding cognitive schemas that vary in their degree of complexity and automation”. Artino suggests that “the implication of these assumptions is that learning will be hindered if instructional materials overwhelm a learner’s limited working memory resources”. This in turn would affect what is retained in the learner’s long-term memory.

Long-term memory, has to be coded and then reversed, this can get lost through illness or disease. When teaching children new things, the aim is to build up their long-term memory.

While experiencing an event, the brain links the sights, smells and sounds to create a relationship. That relationship forms a memory of the event (Ranpura, 2000). However we do not remember everything we build links for, and forget simple things. McLeod (2008) suggests there are two reasons for this. Firstly, memories disappear, or secondly, the memory cannot be retrieved.


Ambreenalwani. (2012) Vark Learning Styles. [Online]. Available at: http://www.studymode.com/essays/Vark-Learning-Styles-1159144.html (Accessed: 15 April 2013)

Artino (2008) ‘Cognitive Load Theory and the Role of Learner Experience: An Abbreviated Review for Educational Practitioners’ AACE Journal, 16(4), 425-239.

Atkinson, R. and Shiffrin, R. (1971) The Control Processes of Short-Term Memory. [Online]. Available at: http://suppescorpus.stanford.edu/techreports/IMSSS_173.pdf (Accessed: 15 April 2013).

Baddeley, A. and Hitch, G. (1974) Working Memory Model. [Online]. Available at: http://explorable.com/working-memory-model (Accessed: 14 April 2013).

Mohs, R. (2007) How Human Memory Works [Online]. Available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory2.htm (Accessed: 15 April 2013)

Ranpura, A. (2006) ‘How We Remember, and Why We Forget’ Brain Connection. [Online]. Available at: http://brainconnection.positscience.com/how-we-remember-and-why-we-forget/ (Accessed: 15 April 2013).


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