Leveraging Long-Term Memory for Digital Learning Success

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Leveraging Long-Term Memory for Digital Learning Success

Every educator knows that long-term memory is crucial to effective learning. It powers knowledge retention and our ability to apply new learning and skills. So, if you want to improve learning outcomes, understanding and harnessing long-term memory is a priority. This is even more so in the context of digital learning, where distractions and superficial engagement present unique challenges.

This post explores long-term memory and e-learning success. We also share some online education strategies and memory retention techniques to optimise outcomes.  

Let's start by developing our understanding of long-term memory and how it works.

Understanding Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is categorised into two main types:

Declarative Memory: This memory type stores factual information. Think historical dates, vocabulary and concepts. It includes semantic memory relating to facts and general knowledge, and episodic memory, which draws on our experiences.

Procedural Memory: These subconscious memories allow us to carry out tasks without even thinking about them. For example, we use our procedural memories to ride a bike or play an instrument.

All memories start in our short-term and working memories. And the process of transferring these into the long-term memory is known as the encoding-consolidation-retrieval process. Let’s take a closer look.

Encoding: First, information is transformed into a format suitable for storage in knowledge-based structures known as schemata. Knowledge can be added to existing schemata, or the brain can create new ones. Effective encoding helps us logically store and retrieve memories when we want to.

Consolidation: This phase consolidates our memories over time to become more robust. Sleep plays a crucial part. During sleep, our brains strengthen the neural connections between new knowledge, stabilising and strengthening learning.

Retrieval: Retrieval is the process of remembering. It’s when we draw on our stored information through recall or recognition. Recall is when we retrieve facts and information we've already acquired, such as a friend’s address or the date of D-Day. With recognition, we don’t need to search our memories actively. Instead, we instantly recognise something as familiar. For example, we recognise a song we've heard before or find our way through the neighbourhood using familiar landmarks.

When it comes toeffective digital learning, long-term memory is critical. It enables us to build on existing knowledge, make connections, and apply new concepts. The bottom line is that it's vital to e-learning success.

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Challenges and Opportunities in Digital Learning

Digital learning environments present some unique hurdles for long-term memory retention. Here are the pitfalls educators and instructional designers need to know:

Information Overload: In the digital age, learners are bombarded with vast amounts of information. Filtering all that data and retaining the essentials is more challenging than ever.

Shallow Processing: Overload is made worse by superficial engagement. Nowadays, we tend to skim digital content quickly. Scrolling and skimming get in the way of comprehension, making it harder to complete the encoding needed for long-term memory.

Distraction: Constant notifications, alerts and switching between multiple apps and tabs disrupt our focus. When distracted and unfocused, our brains struggle to retain all that fragmented information.

Digital Dependence: With so much information at our fingertips, we can become overly reliant on the internet and Google. We no longer memorise new information in the way that we used to.

However, the good news is that despite the challenges we’ve outlined, there are plenty of advantages. Here are the headlines:

Multimedia Learning: Digital learning supports multimedia content. Interactive videos, animations, infographics and audio engage multiple senses and help us with memory encoding.

Interactivity: Active participation enhances memory encoding. Elements like gamification, quizzes and discussion forums engage learners and get them involved in the learning experience.

Personalisation: Unlike traditional classroom settings, digital tools can be tailored to suit the individual’s needs. Adaptive learning and personalised feedback help with knowledge retention and reinforce memory.

Social Learning: Digital platforms support collaborative and social learning through peer feedback, project work, and discussion forums. Research shows that working with others impacts achievement and cognitive abilities, making learning more enjoyable and memorable.

Strategies for Strengthening Long-Term Memory in Digital Contexts

Now that we understand long-term memory in digital learning let's explore how we can maximise its impact. The following online education strategies will help educators, content designers, and learners strengthen long-term memory. For example, you could visualise sardines on a pizza to remember that Sardina is located close to Italy.

For Educators and Content Designers:

Storytelling and Contextual Learning: These are powerful tools for enhancing memory.

Stories can trigger our emotions and provide a rich context for information. Making new knowledge more relatable helps us remember. Furthermore, the familiar structure of a story, with a beginning, middle and end, provides a logical sequence that supports encoding.  

Contextual learning brings abstract concepts to life. Use case studies and real-world examples to help learners relate to new information and make it more relevant.

Memorable Content Creation: To reinforce learning, you can make digital content more memorable using images, diagrams, and videos. Digital platforms also allow for repeated exposure to content over time. Repetition means you can revisit critical points to consolidate memory. And spaced learning techniques, like flashcards or quizzes, maximise memory retention by presenting information at intervals.

Practice Opportunities: When it comes to reinforcing knowledge, there’s no substitute for doing. So, design activities that encourage learners to apply their knowledge and skills. Active practice is a sure-fire way to boost memory consolidation.

For Learners:

Effective Study Habits: One of the best things learners can do is develop good study habits. Self-testing is an excellent tool. Regularly test yourself to reinforce retention.

Spaced learning is also helpful. Take regular breaks and try not to cram too much into one session. Instead, space your study sessions over time for optimal results.

And remember to get plenty of rest. Sleep is when our brains consolidate and reinforce our memories, so make sure you get plenty of shut-eye.

Digital Tools for Personalisation: Use apps and devices to create personalised learning schedules. Then, set up reminders and alerts to stay on track. 

Memory Retrieval Techniques: Do you remember the mnemonic ‘Richard of York gave battle in vain’? Many of us learned this at school as a tool for remembering the sequence of colours in a rainbow. Mnemonics are excellent memory aids, so get creative and make up your own.

Another handy technique is association. Relating new learning to personal experiences and feelings or meaningful real-world contexts enhances memory encoding.

Digital Tools and Technologies Supporting Long-Term Memory

Educators and course designers can also use technology to enhance learners’ retention. Here’s our pick of some of the best tools to integrate into digital learning experiences.

Spaced Repetition Software: Anki is a powerful flashcard app with built-in spaced repetition software. Users can customise the flashcards with images, quotes and drawings.

Quiz Apps: Quizlet is an excellent interactive quiz app. Integrate it into digital learning programs to reinforce learning with practice tests or quick-fire quizzes. Quizlet also has leaderboards, points and badge features.

Educational Games: Gamification makes digital learning fun, and engaged learners tend to retain more new information. The e-learning platform Khan Academy has personalised challenges and collaborative quests. It also has a customisable dashboard so learners can track their progress.

Conclusion: Integrating Long-Term Memory Strategies for Optimal Learning

In digital learning environments, leveraging long-term memory isn’t just a nice to have, it’s essential.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the strategies educators and designers can use to optimise memory retention:

  • Storytelling and contextual learning

  • Memorable content creation

  • Practice opportunities  

  • Digital tools and platforms

For learners, the focus is on developing good study habits and using tried and tested memory retrieval techniques.

Sign up for the Digital Learning Institute’s latest microcredential on working memory to explore memory retention strategies more.