With so much on the market about brain memory it is probably
natural for your first thoughts at seeing the title of this work as
being slightly negative, dismissing it as more useless instructions on
how to improve your ability to learn and remember things. These negative
thoughts may not be dispelled after flicking through the site, but in my
defence this work is intended for a specific group of people. It is
intended for those of us who need language, particularly written
language, to learn anything. This means, those of us who prefer text to
pictures, need to write things down and find imagining weird, unreal
things virtually impossible, which of course puts us at a disadvantage
in the modern world. Why? Well, a lot of information is imparted in
various vocal configurations, e.g. presentations, podcasts, video-feeds
and so it is not originally in our preferred written form, it is quick,
and probably contains a considerable amount of irrelevant information.
Therefore, learning in the case of people who prefer language becomes
more difficult and an adjustment in technique is required to maintain
our learning efficiency.
This work aims to increase the effectiveness of
learning by first looking at how the individual himself can optimise his
learning situation and concludes by suggesting appropriate methods for
learning material on the basis of whether it has to be recalled either
quickly after learning, or after a period of time. The ideas put forward
are based on not only recognised brain memory research and psychology
studies, but also on more novel approaches as dictated in the more
technical part of this website, ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`.
Several areas affect the ability of an individual to learn.
Everyone knows that emotions and emotional state affect how
learning is carried out and what is recalled. Sayings such as ´Relax`,
´Keep cool` are well known as language devices to access this emotional
side so that learning becomes easier. However, not many theorists
include it as a way of optimising brain memory efficiency. According to
my own version of the brain memory mechanism described more fully in the
site, ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`, the emotional system plays
two roles in learning and recall, and hence there are two ways in
which optimisation of the learning process can occur via this system.
The two roles are:
Emotions and emotional state dictate in real-time
the functioning level of the brain through the actions of two
neurotransmitter systems acting in the basal ganglia region (a mid-brain
region known for its role in orchestrating voluntary movement) and the
prefrontal cortex (a region at the front of the brain thought to be
involved in personality and self-awareness as well as planning and
decision-making). The mechanisms of the emotional systems involve the
two neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline, the former associated
with the emotion, pleasure and the latter, pain and fear. Sensory organ
activation representing the stimulus information in the external
environment (i.e. what we want to learn) initiates a firing pathway
leading from them to a middle point, the thalamus (considered as a
gateway for nerve transmission), and then on to higher brain areas where
the signals are interpreted and dealt with. At the same time a second
pathway representing the emotional system is activated leading from the
thalamus, through the hippocampus area (an area linked to spatial
memory) amongst others and ending in the prefrontal cortex. The
emotional system is said to be represented at this point by a ´sliding
switch` mechanism (Salt, 2011), skewed in favour of pleasure against
pain/fear. The ´position` of the switch determines the subsequent
firing of the prefrontal cortical area, and this ultimately affects the
gate-keeping function of the thalamus and hence, nerve transmission.
The two neurotransmitter systems differ in their
dominance of brain areas. The dopamine-based system, representing
a ´pleasure` signal is achieved by appropriate firing of the prefrontal
cortex sliding switch which then fires an area of the basal ganglia
called the globus pallidus. This results in activation of the basal
ganglia area, which has an inhibitory affect on the firing power of the
nerve transmission gateway, the thalamus. Therefore, under the
conditions of pleasure/relaxation, the full extent of thalamus
capability is not used. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex has an
inhibitory effect on another basal ganglia area, the amygdala.
The amygdala is important because it is linked with the activity
of the other neurotransmitter-based emotional system, that of noradrenaline
- the neurotransmitter responsible for the negative emotions experienced
with fear or pain. In this case, according to the ´outside the box`
theory summarised in ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`, a
negative emotion will stimulate the prefrontal cortical sliding-switch
to positively activate the amygdala by removing its inhibition. The
inhibitory effect of the basal ganglia on the thalamus is lifted as a
result leading to changes in quality and quantity of the incoming
sensory information. The action also initiates effects on the pineal
gland and hypothalamus causing the ´fight or flight` responses and/or
other appropriate survival-type actions known to be linked with fear or
importance of the emotional systems is demonstrated in the concept of overall
working level of the brain (the OWL). According to the hypothesis
proposed by this author (Salt, 2011) one of these two
neurotransmitter-based brain systems dominates at all times and this can
influence the natural level at which the brain works. Although other
factors can also influence the brains activity such as circadian rhythms
of the sleep/wake cycle or the female oestrous cycle, it is suggested
that in terms of brain memory only the actions of the dopamine or
noradrenaline systems play significant roles. The idea of an overall
working level is not new, and may be similar to that described by Piaget
in 1970 with his ´equilibration` concept. Piaget proposed that in a
changing environment that the individual needs a stable internal
environment (in this case, the OWL) and will use brain memory and
processing capability to restore equilibrium if disrupted. In people,
the dopamine-based system appears to be the preferential system since
the cognition processes, including brain memory, and other physiological
processes are optimised when OWL is dominated this way. Evidence for
this is psychological (for example, people strive to maintain ´happiness`
and ´happy` people perform
better and live longer) and physiological (for example, a dopamine-based
reward system exists in the brain and one of the important regions of
the basal ganglia system, the corpus striatum, develops in the foetus as
early as 9 weeks).
the mechanisms of the emotional systems and the importance on natural
working level of the brain have been described we can see how emotional
state could affect brain memory and how we, the individual can influence
the functioning of these systems to some extent. Physiologically,
we can influence both by anything that affects the functioning of those
brain areas involved in both dopamine or noradrenaline-based systems and
how they inter-relate. This cannot be carried out so easily consciously
and known physiological changes are normally negative, e.g. a decrease
in signalling linked to changes in dopamine activity within an area in
the basal ganglia associated with reward has been observed in depression
(Singer, 2003) or increased signalling in the case of schizophrenia
(Davison and Neale, 1996). These examples should be taken as a warning
for all of you who hope to change your cognitive performance by taking
drugs of some kind. Much is
said about the advantages of brain memory enhancers, which work by
influencing the neurotransmitter functioning in the brain, but I hope
the above simplified description of the emotional systems alone is
enough to dissuade people from taking this route. The brain is a finely
balanced, organic body ´part` and drugs may positively affect one
mechanism, but at the same time, negatively affect another. Hence,
trying to achieve cognitive enhancement the chemical route should be
the good news is that manipulation of the OWL can also be achieved to a
certain extent psychologically. Emotional state can be influenced
by for example, using speech or priming (roughly preparing the brain
content-wise for what is to come). The use of language (inner
speech or speaking out aloud) is easy to understand. Giving ourselves a
pep talk can lift performance or reduce anxiety. Priming is also
understandable – if we know what is coming by doing a little
preparation then the task seems easier or we seem more relaxed by it. A
relaxed attitude induced with positive thoughts and confidence in one`s
own ability to succeed in the task is more likely to have a positive
outcome. Alternatively, anybody expecting the worst is likely to get it.
The mere act of fearing something leads to a swing towards to the
negative noradrenaline system and has effects on cognitive performance
consistent with its domination. More will be discussed on such methods
later, but for now it is important to recognise that one way to
influence mental functioning and performance is by influencing the
emotional state at the time of learning.
second role of the emotional systems in brain memory mechanisms is that
emotions and emotional state give rise to the value of events
through the simultaneous storage of event information and emotional
state information. According to the mechanism advocated, the storage of
the event information is suggested as taking place in the cortical areas
associated with the sensory systems and the emotional information in the
aforementioned prefrontal cortex. This stored emotional information is
called the emotional tag and it reflects physiologically the
positioning of the skewed prefrontal cortical sliding switch. The
skewed nature of the switch means that the noradrenaline-based system is
activated through only one position of the switch, whereas the dopamine
system is activated through many more. This allows the pleasure response
to be graded rather than a single ´on-off` type response responsible in
the case of pain/fear situations to switch on the ´fight or flight` and
other survival responses. The suggested ´pleasure` grading is
demonstrable by considering the number of adjectives that describe the
various levels of ´happiness`, for example relaxed, happy, ecstatic and
passionate. Psychologically, the result of such a system is that the
individual can associate personal values to any event experienced
and they can be manipulated by influencing the workings of both
emotional systems at the time of storage. Personal values or ´worth`
are one of the factors that determine our behaviour and in the case of
brain memory, can determine what we learn and what we do with this
knowledge. It is clear that this is a ´real` feature of memories, since
we can all list things in order of things we like and dislike and we all
know that the greater something is liked the more likelihood there is
that this is the action followed.
memories and experiences each individual creates his own list of
priorities on which his actions, processing and decision-making are
based, e.g. self-protection, things or people of value to him and his
views on ´how the world works`. The basic premise is that the ´self`
(the individual) has the highest priority (self-interest). Every
individual has basic needs and drives, e.g. hunger and security, and
this idea was developed by the psychologist, Murray (1938) who detailed
an extra twenty personal requirements based on personality and other
esoteric factors such as achievement and dominance. This led to the
construction of a hierarchy of needs by Maslow (1970), satisfying both.
Maslow described a person`s need for survival, safety, love and
belonging, esteem and finally at the highest level, the need for self-actualisation.
These concepts are important to brain memory because, each event is
given a value and level of priority by the individual rated according to
his level of self-interest, which is based on the needs and drives he
personally has. This value is then stored in the emotional tag, and can
dictate which actions are followed when the event or information is
recalled at a later date.
how emotions effect the different brain memory stages
and emotional state can affect every stage of the brain memory mechanism
and hence, any manipulation of the systems can have wide-ranging effects
on the learning process.
the input stage, the first stage of the learning process, then
emotions and emotional state can affect the individual in both of the
ways described above. Selecting which events are inputted influences
what is ultimately learnt. This is achieved by for example, affecting
the real-time OWL by choosing events such as those that promote a
positive personal response (could be by choosing objects of one`s
favourite colour or objects that are familiar rather than unfamiliar) or
have links to pleasurable previous experiences (positive emotional
tags). Manipulation of such
selection can occur by listening or watching others for example, a
situation reflected in the case of empathy or being ordered by someone.
It can also be affected by the general ambiance of the external
environment, such as smells or greenery, which lends weight to the view
that the background during the learning process should also be
Personal experience shows that current emotional state reflected by the OWL can affect the efficiency of the recall process just like it can for the input brain memory stage. For example, fear can diminish the success of certain types of recall, e.g. problem solving, but have no effect on others such as bike riding; and the relaxation state makes the individual more receptive to recall. The effect of tiredness and various stages of the oestrous cycle are both well known in changing the OWL state sufficiently to affect recall capability. Therefore, the emotional state can have an affect on the efficacy of the recall process. The task at hand and the success at which that task is being handled will determine whether the emotional state remains with the dopamine-based system being dominate, or whether the fear state will be induced so that changes in quality and quantity of incoming information will take place.
The other way in which emotional state can alter the recall process is through emotional tag reactivation. Recall of the emotional tag when information is recalled can lead to emotional responses associated with that information at the time of learning. Psychologists call this contextual memory and this type of memory includes mood, level of alertness and feelings. Research by Wiseman and Tulving (1976) showed that the efficiency of brain memory retrieval could depend on whether the same internal and external contexts were available. The responses may not be in keeping with the real-time external environment. For example, just thinking about a horrible experience can lead to the heart pounding even though the event is not real and the person is totally safe.
Both the positive and negative emotional tags have their uses in recall. Positive tags (i.e. those that induce the dopamine-based system and gatekeeper thalamus inhibition) are required to give an individual his personal values, as well as determining what gives him pleasure. Therefore, recall allows previous experiences to determine the value (´emotional worth`) of the event being encountered in ´real-time`. Personal experience shows that individual values can change and this is possible with the input, storage and recall of emotional tags with the appropriate information. The continual re-adjustment of ´emotional tags` brings about in the case of highly pleasurable events a curious outcome. ´Outside the box` thinking suggests that such events when repeated fail to bring the same level of pleasure as the original event and it is thought that habit and routine in the same way is detrimental to the ´emotional` memory system. Humans constantly strive to change habit and need constant challenges because they need to keep the fear and pleasure systems active. Therefore, although an event may be stored with an ´emotional tag`, the adjustment of the tag at future re-encounters ensures that the brain continues to work at peak efficiency.
Fear tags need no explanation when considering recall. The incoming information itself does not indicate a pain response, but the emotional tag reactivation by activation of the stored memory does. Self-experience shows that an event that leads to the activation of a fear emotional tag will induce a series of ´fight or flight` responses built in to secure the safety of the individual, independent of the ´real-time` emotional state. This type of automatic response is behaviourally easy to recognise, e.g. heart leaps at a shadow or pulse races at a noise, and just like pleasure tags, these tags can also be adjusted either positively (fear lessened) or negatively (fear heightened) to match ´real-time` events. In fact, this capability is used to counteract fear tags, which are emotionally and physically draining on an individual. For example, psychologists can use conditioning; hypnotists can use positive associations; and self-induced inner speech can overcome negativity.
Unfortunately, not all situations involving memory recall are simple cases of remembering stored experiences spurred from real-time sensory events. Sometimes, the remembered material does not completely fulfil the task at hand as is demonstrated by the example of trying to recognise an unknown object. In these cases, a roller coaster of emotions can occur from the beginning of the task to its end – mild panic as the individual recognises that he does not know something to relief and happiness when the task is successfully concluded. These emotional changes although annoying accompany the necessary alterations in other cognitive systems, such as the attentional system required to bring about an adaptation of the approach to the task in order that a solution is found. In the case of the unrecognised object, the mild panic feeling is accompanied by changes in quality and quantity of incoming information induced by the attentional system. For example, instead of looking at detail, then the event characteristics concentrated on will be the basic shape and colour of the object and comparisons to known objects will be made at this level first. Successful completion of the task, in this case satisfactory identification of the object, will lead to a shift from the heightened fear/panic state to the more relaxed state brought about by a shift back to the dopamine-based emotional brain system. Feelings of relief and happiness accompany the biochemical changes.
In even more complicated recall situations where no clear solution is obtained and decision-making may have to take place, then emotions and emotional state play roles in every stage of the recall process. A full description of the process can be seen in the accompanying site, ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`, but again to summarise there is a roller coaster of emotional feelings experienced. These changes accompany the attentional system adaptations to the demands of the task.
As an example, emotions and emotional state can play a
role in decision-making at the end of the recall process. Here,
real-time emotional state and stored emotional values are in competition
with logic and fact. ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box` describes
two sets of decision-making methods with emotional state involved in
both: ´heart` methods (emotional state and tag evaluation) and ´head`
methods (risk assessment involving the noradrenaline-based system). Decision-making
based on the heart is suggested as being akin to choosing a
scenario where self-interest is the primary factor in determining which
path is followed, i.e. emotional values take priority over facts. This
can be amply demonstrated by the example of mother love where the love
for a child takes priority over the mother`s self-interest. Whatever the
content of the information, the ´option` chosen is the one that has the
emotional value of the required calibre. This probably means the
emotional values dictated by the hypothesised sliding scale are the
determining criteria, with the single negative value taking priority
over those of pleasure. This type of decision-making is supported by the
psychologists` theories such as Anderson`s rational-emotional model
(2003) and the social functionalist approach (Tetlock, 2002).
The alternative method of decision-making based on the ´head`
is suggested as making decisions based on facts and logic and instead of
comparing the emotional worth of the available events then a comparison
of the factual ´worth` of the different options is made. Hence, there
is a ´mathematical-type` basis to this decision-making process and this
may not be so visible or so instantaneous as decisions based on
emotional factors. I have suggested that the psychologists views on
decision-making can be divided ultimately into three techniques based on
frequency, utility and risk with the ideal solution demonstrating high
probability, high utility and low risk/high reward. In an attempt to
marry these psychologists views to a feasible biochemical mechanism
relating to neuronal firing, decisions made by the ´head` could be said
to be based on the strength of neuronal activation
(frequency/probability), the strength of similarity of characteristics
(utility) and the strength of emotional response (risk). Strength in all
cases means not exact mathematical numbers, but more rough
approximations like, for example a show of hands, degree of lighting, or
Risk can be calculated using the strength of emotional
response and can be re-defined as the assessment of the chance of reward
or loss being received. Decision-making seeks to
maximise reward (happiness) and minimise loss (stress) and therefore,
the emotional strength of each possible option is calculated according
to that described for self-interest. The values obtained from each
option are compared and that producing the highest value (reward or
loss) indicates the most ideal solution. The link
between risk and emotional strength is abundant with some linking
neurotransmitter effects to loss and reward (Morgan et al. 2006 – the
administration of ecstasy makes it less likely to determine between
reward and loss) and others linking brain areas involved in the
emotional system (Wallis, 2006 - subjective
value of an outcome is computed by the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of
the prefrontal cortex).
influencing the emotional system
to aid learning
Now we know how emotions and emotional state affect brain memory
we can devise methods for optimising them so that learning efficiency is
improved. Some methods have already been mentioned above in the
explanation of this particular system, but basically, influences can be
divided into groups: those that affect the fundamental physiology of the
brain and its interrelating systems and those that have a psychological
influences on the fundamental physiology are:
the basic physical structure and functioning of certain areas
such as the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex. Changes can occur due
to physical damage (e.g. stroke, injury), advancing age, in mental
disorders and by substance administration. These may induce changes in
emotional state that may be evident from increased aggression,
depression or anxiety for example. Possible remedial treatment can
involve drug administration, but this has to be prescribed and
controlled by a medical professional. As described in the introduction,
the brain is an organic living body part with complicated and
inter-related systems and factors that can affect one system positively,
can affect others to the detriment of the individual. Therefore,
self-medication should be avoided. Most physical changes of this nature
are not under conscious control.
changes accompanied by emotional effects can be seen with some circadian
rhythms such as the oestrous cycle and sleep-wake cycle. Since
drug-taking will disrupt these most natural of rhythms, the only advice
is to ´play to one`s strengths`, i.e. if you know that when you are
tired you tend to be irritable, then avoid acting or making decisions
for example that reflect your general annoyance. The phasic nature of
such systems means that there are periods of high and low performance
and these can be catered to accordingly.
3) Negative effects of stress on fundamental physiology, reflected by emotional state (increased levels of aggression, impatience, anxiety for example), can be helped by the reduction of stress in the person`s daily life, e.g. instigation of meditation and relaxation programmes, change in diet, work and sleep habits.
influences on the
psychological effects are:
Personal values can be influenced by a re-assessment of one`s
approach to life and way of thinking. Maslow`s hierarchy of needs
and drives begins with the need for survival (e.g. fulfilling the
physiological requirements for sleep, food etc.), then need for safety,
need for love and longing, need for esteem and ends with the need for
self-actualisation (discovering interests and potential etc.). Personal
values, including likes and dislikes reflects one`s own needs and drives
and sometimes these become rigid, routine, dictated by others and
probably not optimal for the individual himself. Reassessment of these
needs can lead to a re-setting of personal values, which as it has been
shown can affect many aspects of the learning and recall process.
way one acts and feels is not only determined by the situation and
previous experiences, but also by the person`s personality. This
will be discussed in more depth later, but for now personality
influences the emotions and emotional state in response to real-time
external events. For example, a shy person will likely experience highly
negative emotions when confronted by a total stranger on a dark night.
Doing things out of character, increasing self-confidence or self-trust,
can stimulate a reassessment of the emotions felt and values formed. In
the same vein, doing things that stimulate or that are new rather
than those that are routine will re-introduce new emotional responses
and new values as the worth of the novel event is compared to those
As already discussed and important in the learning
mechanism advocated here, language can have a strong influence on
emotions and emotional state. Words have meanings and these can be used
to increase positive feelings, displace negative ones and in general
influence how and what we learn. The use of inner speech to stimulate
and calm is well known and a prime example of conscious control exerted
to re-adjust emotional worth specifically are discussed later in the
section on personality, but I hope for now it is clear that emotions and
emotional state are important factors in learning and memories.
There are probably not many biological systems that are not
influenced either directly or indirectly by lifestyle and brain memory
is no exception. We have already seen how memory can be affected by
emotions and emotional state and therefore, one lifestyle factor, i.e.
mental attitude, has already been discussed. For the sake of simplicity,
we should think of learning and brain memory being positively influenced
by a good lifestyle and vice versa and therefore, the efficiency of the
memory mechanism can be aided by the individual striving to live as
healthily as possible. However, just like any other physiological
system, there are probably more specific lifestyle factors that can
influence, but although promoted as advantageous, they are often the
subject of much debate amongst scientists and others working in the
medical field. As far as this work is concerned, lifestyle factors are
considered as influencing one of two physiological systems required for
the brain memory mechanism: the emotional system described above and the
attentional system, which will be discussed in more detail later when
required basic skills are considered.
Lifestyle factors that can be described as having more specific
effects on learning and brain memory are:
Some of the foods said to be linked with physiological
systems required in learning and recall, such as the nervous system or
stimulation of the brain; or required skills, such as attention are:
(stimulates the brain), apricots (helps the nervous system), aubergine
(calms the nerves), avocado (good for the nervous system), banana
(restores the equilibrium of the nervous system), borage (natural ´pep`
pill), chamomile (relaxant), cherries (calming effect on the nervous
system), dates (combats tiredness and fatigue), figs (strengthens
nervous system and brain), ginseng (combats mental tension, stress,
tiredness and fatigue), grapes (good for treating tiredness, fatigue and
the nervous system), lettuce (calming effect on nervous system), mint
(good for nervous system and a sedative), almonds (good for the brain
and nerve impulses), plums (good for treating tiredness), poppy seeds
(relaxing and sedative), rosemary (strengthens the nervous system, good
against tiredness and fatigue), sage (good against fatigue and
depression), and spinach (
good for nervous system, treating depression and fatigue).
Although these specific foods may or may not aid learning and
cognitive performance, they should not be relied on to do so and neither
should alternative therapies such as herbalism (e.g. gingko) or
homoeopathy (e.g. Argentum nitricum). A good diet and sufficient fluids,
especially water should be the standard for everyone, but to help
specifically during the learning session then a little fruit if
hunger is an issue and lots of drinking water should be at hand. Sweet
or sugar substitute drinks or those containing caffeine should be
avoided not only to safeguard the teeth, but also to keep attention
concentrated on the task.
The sayings, ´Why don`t you sleep on it?` and ´Everything
will look better in the morning,` reflect the recognition that sleep is
necessary for certain cognitive functions and it has been shown that in
the case of long-term memory formation that tiredness and sleep
deprivation have recognised negative effects. The natural sleep-wake
cycle is one of most important circadian rhythms in humans with
individuals sleeping 7-8 hours and the rest of the cycle spent in a
wakeful state. Alertness follows a set pattern - increasing after sleep
to a maximum between 3pm and 7pm and then decreasing to the following
sleep cycle. This pattern of ´alertness` is mirrored by changes
in cognitive performance (Blake, 1967).
Klein and Armitage (1979) described a 96-minute cycle called the
Basic Rest-Activity Cycle (BRAC), which was suggested as being related
to the one seen in sleep (Lloyd, 2004). Support for this work came from
Carlson (1986) who found numerous cycles of around 90 minutes in length
all controlling mechanisms associated with the lower brain area, the
medulla. This natural ´clock` appears to control a pattern of regular
changes in ´alertness` and is associated with activity during the day,
as well as NREM and REM sleep cycles at night. It also controls body
temperature. The control of the natural sleep-wake cycle appears to be dependent on the environment and is governed by an internal clock thought
to be a small group of cells in the forebrain, the suprachiasmatic
does the sleep-wake cycle have to do with learning? We all know that
tiredness can have an affect on cognition and brain memory. When we are
tired, it seems more difficult to learn something and recall needs a
certain level of determination, unless the information is vitally
important for our survival. The effects of sleep and tiredness on
the various systems described as being involved in brain memory are
listed in Table 1. As it is natural for individuals to sleep and there
is a circadian rhythm to the sleep-wake cycle then there also must be
natural changes in the level of performance of certain systems
responsible for cognition.
Table 1 – Effect of sleep and
tiredness on brain memory mechanisms
The effects on cognitive ability possibly come from the action of
another neurotransmitter, serotonin (5HT), which plays at least
four roles in the brain memory process. This neurotransmitter is said
the overall firing of particular areas, e.g. raphe nuclei and
prefrontal cortex, some firing of which may be related to the sleep-wake
a role in brain memory by causing changes in the visual system or
other sensory systems. For example, LSD is a potent hallucinogenic
drug and serotonin receptor binding agent and causes visual system
3) have an affect on brain memory
by changing focus and attentional state. It is known that
tiredness alters a person`s ability to focus or pay attention. This
effect could be due to the action of the prefrontal cortex (Evers et al.
2005), where there is a link between the level of task relevant material
and activity, and firing due to serotonergic binding or the serotonergic
affect on dopamine release (Pehek et al. 2006).
4) have an affect on brain memory
by changing the emotional state (described in 2.1.1). A shift
from the dopamine-based brain system to the noradrenaline-based system
could be induced if the fear mechanism is activated due to tiredness and
this results in the failure to learn.
Prefrontal cortex activity would be altered by the serotonin and
this would influence emotional and attentional states with corresponding
changes in cognitive and memory processes. Therefore, changes in
emotional state mirroring changes in serotonin binding and prefrontal
cortex activity may result in memory deficits.
Although acetylcholine, dopamine and noradrenaline act directly
on the brain memory mechanism, serotonin probably acts by indirectly
affecting one of them, or by binding to receptors that can bring about
changes in one of them. It can be suggested therefore, that this is a
kind of safety mechanism, or ´back door` by which the neurotransmitters
can affect the brain memory mechanism, thus increasing the chances by
which memories can be made or affected.
The main function of sleep however comes from its requirement for
the formation of the long-term memory stores. Research has shown
that it is the NREM stages of sleep that are important for brain memory
because it is thought that during these stages ´housekeeping` functions
of nerve cells takes place, e.g. energy stores (glycogen) are
replenished in neurons and glial cells, receptors are inserted in
membranes and synapses are strengthened - all functions proposed in the
brain memory mechanism advocated here as being required for the
long-term storage of brain memories and part of the multiple cellular
changes thought to take place (´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`).
This hypothesis is supported by earlier psychologists`
views on the role of sleep. The restoration/recovery theory (Oswald,
1980) proposed different functions for the two types of sleep. Oswald
suggested that during NREM sleep, bodily processes are renewed, and
during REM sleep brain processes are restored. Alternatively, Lawton
(2004) suggested that during the NREM stages the brain repairs the
damage done by free radicals, a view supported by evidence that animals
with high metabolic rates and hence high radical damage sleep more
(Allison and Cicchetti, 1976). Another view is that NREM stages leads to
the topping up of glycogen stores in the glial cells that supply the
neurons with energy when required. When these are run down they must be
replenished so the brain goes into a quiet state (NREM) and neurons
hyperpolarize. In the REM stage however, potassium ions are pumped back
into the neurons thus polarising the cells and ´switching on` the
cortex. Thus, the NREM stages were suggested as the ´sleep periods`
responsible for replenishing proteins, strengthening synapses, inserting
receptors, and topping up glycogen, all so-called ´housekeeping
functions` and part of the cellular changes required to convert
short-term memory stores into more permanent ones.
Therefore, the evidence linking sleep with
learning and memories is substantial and so sleep and sleep patterns
should be regarded as important to the efficacy of this cognitive
function. Regular sleep of adequate length and power naps if
necessary are required for the brain memory mechanism to function at an
ideal level. There are many
different methods to improve the quality and quantity of sleep and for
the individual to optimise his sleep-wake cycle. Some methods are old
wives tales; some are medically recognised techniques and involve
medication or alternative therapies; some require a life-style change,
but for learning to successfully take place on a regular scale, the
individual should heed his body signals and strive for a routine sleep
pattern that is optimal for him.
Brain memories are derived from real-time experiences and form
the basis of behaviour, decision-making, creativity and a wide number of
other activities undertaken by the individual. Therefore, the quality
and quantity of real-time experiences occuring as part of the lifestyle
of the individual affect the store of brain memories available to that
individual at a later date. The ´store` denoted as the knowledge base
will be discussed from a content point of view in the next section, but
here we look at how lifestyle presents the opportunity for real-time
experiences. According to the brain memory mechanism hypothesis
advocated here, two areas can be influenced by the individual: the level
of social interaction and the amount of mental stimulation.
With regards to social interaction, you are probably
thinking, ´How does my conversation with my next-door neighbour or my
game at the badminton club affect my learning ability?` and you would be
right in thinking that in terms of learning mechanism it does not.
However, if we look at what we`ve learnt or which brain memories we`ve
used in both events then we can see that those two examples of social
interaction have huge indirect effects. For example, in the case of the
conversation with the neighbour, I have probably empathised, imparted
local gossip, obeyed social etiquette, expressed wishes and intent, and
recalled in detail my latest activities, as well as paying attention and
listening to his news and gossip, agreed or given advice using my own
experiences and this probably all in the space of five minutes. The
advantage from this five minute chat is also emotional since I
have laughed, felt good and look forward to our next meeting. In the
case of my badminton game, I have followed both game and social rules,
employed hand-eye-limb co-ordination, spoke to my opponent and been
through a roller-coaster of emotions due to the point scoring as the
game progresses. Therefore, social interaction whether with family
members, friends, work colleagues, or strangers is important in the
provision and use of not only informational experience, but also
emotional experience. Experiences of others provide additional
important information that can be used in tasks faced by the individual
and in decision-making for example where the opinions of others is one
method for constructing possible options.
Essentially, western culture strongly supports social
interaction, e.g. sports clubs, bars, offices, factories, canteens, but
our ways of working (smaller firms, home office for example), family
relationships (such as working away from home, less contact to family
members because of distance or disagreements) and our hobby activities
(e.g. greater use of computer social networking sites, jogging alone)
are changing the form of this social interaction and even
reducing it. Therefore, the quality and quantity of the information
obtained from others is also being affected and this in turn affects our
behaviour and cognitive functionality.
There is no point in stressing about social interaction dictated
by circumstance, e.g. if you spend two hours on the road travelling to
and fro from work, then only a drastic change in transport method is
likely to bring you into contact with more people. However, some
circumstances can be changed and should be if possible, e.g.
substitution of an evening spent on the computer communicating
electronically with friends for a pub quiz night, or a game of golf; or
picking up the phone and talking to that aunt, who you`ve meaning to
telephone since Christmas; or if you are elderly and live alone, going
to social events held by the local community centre. Small changes can
have big effects.
The benefits of social interaction even with strangers outweighs
the effort put in and helps learning and thinking in several different
ways. It can provide more information than gained purely from ones own
experiences, such as others may give alternative ways to solve problems
or give guidance to fulfil tasks and in the case of decision-making
considering other peoples reactions will open a set of options not
available if only information is taken into account. Any improvement to
take advantage of these benefits has to be personal and the only advice
given can be to have good, hard look at the lifestyle led regarding
social interaction, see where there is room for change and do it.
The same can be said for the other topic that can be affected by
lifestyle, that of mental stimulation. If I take a good, hard
look at my levels of mental stimulation during a normal day, I would see
a range between high points of intense mental activity and low points of
´vegging` - no thinking, just watching. I would also see that within
this range I could pep up some of the lower levels with the addition of
a little mental stimulation in the form of activities that induce me to
think a bit, such as learning a new hobby or a foreign language,
listening to the radio or watching a documentary, discussing a news
topic with others. This is not to say that relaxing is not beneficial,
because it is, but like most pleasurable things, too much ´relaxing` is
neither mentally nor physically favourable.
Just like social interaction, improving the levels of mental
stimulation comes from a look at the lifestyle and the insertion of
activities that can be carried out safely and advantageously during the
periods of low mental stimulation, leaving room, however, for
relaxation. Ways to improve mental stimulation are discussed in the next
section on improving the knowledge base, but it should be recognised
that increasing thinking and learning induces cognitive advantages far
above that of just increasing the amount of facts one has. It helps in
the approach to problem-solving, decision-making, levels of creativity
as well as having positive emotional effects.
Therefore, it can be summarised that where possible an individual
can aid his learning and brain memory methods by ensuring that social
interaction and periods of mental stimulation are well-balanced and
optimal for his situation. This may mean that a little effort has to be
spent to introduce more social contact or reducing those ´vegging`
periods, but the cognitive benefits are wide-ranging.
Many books on improving brain memory advocate a learning routine,
which includes a specific location with specific tools. However, we know
that most learning situations require learning whilst on the train for
example, standing and at any time of the day – hardly ideal
circumstances if a person has to sit at his desk and have his favourite
pen and snack nearby. Therefore, although a learning routine in a
specific environment may be possible in the case of educational-type
learning, e.g. for school or for the job, in other circumstances
learning routine means more the learning method and not location or
tools specifically. Learning methods are discussed in later sections,
but in those circumstances where learning is controlled, structured and
under the sole influence of the individual himself, then an ideal
learning routine can be formulated. This routine is personal and
requires the individual to optimise it himself. Over the years and with
experience favoured learning routines and environment probably have
developed, but a re-assessment can increase efficiency. Topics that
should be addressed are:
Environment - this means everything that
is around you, whether outside or inside, whether noisy or quiet and
includes temperature, lighting, background noise, smells etc. Personal
preferences come to the fore if structured learning is indicated, but
this should mean at least a comfortable temperature and adequate
lighting. The subject of background noise is entirely personal, with
some people preferring to learn with music playing and others preferring
the quiet. The measure of success of learning dictates which conditions
are the most advantagious.
Position – whether lying on the bed
or floor, or sitting at a desk, the location has to be the best for the
person learning. The only stipulations are that there is no physical
discomfort or long-term damage from spending long periods of time in
that position and that it allows plenty of space for computer, paper,
pens, books etc. to be laid out, consulted and worked on with ease.
Food and snacks – some people prefer to have a plentiful supply of food or nibbles during
their learning periods, whereas others prefer nothing. The only
recommendation is that there is plenty of fluid available and preferably
water instead of highly sweetened, caffeinated drinks.
Time – not everyone is ready to learn at six in the morning, or capable of
learning efficiently at midnight. The specific time of day
optimal for learning is up to the individual and this is often not
possible, even in structured learning situations (e.g. all-day cramming
means that some periods of the day are more optimal than others for any
specific individual; or the availability of library facilities restricts
the favourable learning periods for the night owl). Only through
practice will the most beneficial times of the day be identified for any
one person and these should be adhered to if possible especially when a
large amount of learning has to be carried out. The only conditions laid
down are with the length of any one study period and with the
revision schedule. Regarding the former, it is thought that a single
period should be between 20 and 45 minutes long, followed by a short
break. The amount of attention that has to be given to the material, the
degree of difficulty and the physiological state of the learner are all
factors which determine whether the learning period is at the shorter
end of this scale or not. As far as revision schedule is
concerned, this will be discussed in more detail in later sections where
specific methods are given, but it follows those ideas given by Buzan
(1974) in that the first revision should take place 10 minutes after
learning, followed by one hour, one day etc. It is important to note
down the revision schedule as it is often forgotten in the rush to learn
as much material as possible (in the Establishment of Purpose, see later
for an example). Revision is just as important for the success of the
learning as the initial uptake of material.
Material – this topic depends on individual preferences. I know that to learn
anything quickly I am better when I have written it down in my own short
form and hence, my learning routine is better when I have pen and paper
available. Others however, prefer to hear things and so the pen and
paper requirement is not necessary. Therefore, the material needed to
learn effectively has to be identified by the individual. If pen and
paper is your modus operendi then the vast range of
stationery material in todays times is ideal, but it should be
remembered that coloured pens and post-it notes do not take the place of
good and accurate notes, they just make them easier to learn.
Changes to the content and format of the material will be
discussed in more detail later in the suggested methods and this takes
into account the preference of the reader here for language and words.
Therefore, effective learning periods
means that the ideal environment and routines have to be identified
first by the individual himself. They may be suggested by others, but
what is beneficial for one may not be another. The measure of the
success of any routine or environment is the ease at which something is
learnt, the time taken and the level of recall. Therefore, one has to
accept that routine and environment are entirely personal and can change
with age, experience and other factors and therefore, the measure of
success should be constantly monitored and changes accepted if they need
to be made.
The knowledge base a person has influences real-time and future
behaviour, as well as personality and cognitive functions, including
memory. It is the culmination of experiences and thinking stored
long-term and is individual, adaptable and affected by whether or not we can
control what goes in it. By this I mean that certain experiences are
required to be remembered because these are topics that are necessary
for our survival. For example, knowledge relating to our physiological
condition (e.g. food types necessary for good health), social situation
(e.g. manners), school or job-related information (e.g. history dates,
car engine parts for mechanics) must be learnt whether we want to or
not. Expansion of these topics occurs through exposure and need.
Other topics though can also widen this obligatory knowledge base
and these are topics that are under the control of the individual.
Several factors can lead to an expansion of this part of the
knowledge base, such as ability, interest and situation. Ability
can determine the amount of information taken in and the form it is in.
It is clear that if you do not have to learn something, and if you find
it difficult that the temptation to give up and do something else is
much greater than if you find it easy. Interests of the
individual can be varied and a person can cultivate hobbies and
voluntary pursuits in areas where his abilities lie. For example, a
person with high physical-kinaesthetic intelligence is likely to develop
interests with a physical nature, such as playing sport or dancing,
whereas the person with high musical intelligence is likely to play a
musical instrument or sing. Interests not only reflect the persons
desire to do something, but also the time, money and facilities
available and this can be linked to a person`s situation, which is a
third factor influencing the part of the knowledge base under the
control of the individual.
So, the question is why is the knowledge base so important?
Apart from the obvious that what we know leads to our behaviour and make
us who we are, from a brain memory perspective it the source of material
and provider of solutions when the information available does not
directly answer the problem at hand. A broad knowledge base will allow
the individual to use ideas and information from a wide source, directly
and indirectly related to the task at hand. This forms the basis of
brain storming or creative thinking.
Therefore, having established that our knowledge base will favour
our abilities, interests and circumstances and that a wide base is
advantageous in helping us live our lives, make decisions and solve
problems, we should be inspired to broaden it if possible. Methods to
improve our information cache include:
the knowledge of already stored topics.
For example, by looking up the topic in an encyclopaedia, we may find
unknown or related areas not already learnt. We can also use the various
forms of media available, e.g. documentary programmes on the television
or Internet search engines, or use the expertise of other people to
specifically select areas that will boost information. Association of
the material to what is already known not only widens the base, but also
cements the stored knowledge further.
new topics and interests.
This can be done by randomly selecting topics found in an encyclopaedia,
at the library, at museum exhibitions, choosing topics using other
abilities or from other people for example. By linking this new
information with what is known (e.g. by finding similarities or
differences), then not only is the knowledge base widened, but also the
stored material is strengthened. This method is probably harder than
(1), but to make it easier, then a few tips should be considered. These
are: not all new topics are of interest and so the person should be
willing to try out many things before anything is found that he/she
wishes to delve into deeper; low-level knowledge should be started with
first and the complexity built up – expertise needs to be worked at
(Why not look at children`s books on a topic first rather than third
year degree level material?); perseverance is the key, not only in the
face of family and friends who might query this ´new you`, but also
with finding the time and commitment.
to summarise, the knowledge base possessed by the individual will affect
not only behaviour, but how and what things are learnt. Any improvement
in the stored material can be beneficial and this can be consciously
achieved by expanding topics already known or by introducing new ones.
This requires time, commitment and effort, but advantages of a
wider information cache can be soon observed.
In the previous sections we have seen how physiological factors
and knowledge base of an individual can affect what and how things are
learnt. This section looks at the basic skills required to carry this
out according to the brain memory mechanism given in more detail in the
companion site, ´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`.
Ways in which the individual can influence his learning efficiency via
these skills are also indicated. The topics discussed are:
Sensory activation in this context means the initial capture of
information from the external environment according to the presence of
appropriate sensory organs and its transference to higher brain areas,
where the information is then identified, recognised, interpreted etc.
This section does not discuss this perception level, but concentrates on
the initial uptake and how the reader can improve it. Since this book is
for those of us who prefer to learn with words, the discussion will
focus on visual and auditory information only.
I could describe the visual pathway in detail here, but what is
important here is that as far as learning is concerned, three factors
concerning the visual system are of interest and these are:
The first factor, that only events within the visual field
can be learnt if the conditions are correct means that activation of certain brain areas leads to movement of the
individual`s head and eyes so that the object remains in the centre of
the field of vision. This counteracts any movement of the object in the
external environment and could explain why body position appears not to
be important for visual memory. Essentially what is being remembered is
only what is in the centre of the visual field, independent of where
that field may be. This supports the early hypotheses of psychologists,
Helmholtz (1866) and Sherrington (1906), who proposed that it is this
control of head and eye movement that forms the basis of visual memory.
Once in the visual field, not all information is
learnt and the biochemical brain memory mechanism advocated here
suggests that the objects have to be ´held` within this visual field to
enable the shifts from these temporary images to long-term memories to
occur, i.e. learning. This is supported by work by Treisman (1964), who
showed that the temporary visual images decayed within 0.5 seconds
unless continual activation of the visual pathway occurred via this ´holding`
The second important factor for visual learning
is that the quality and quantity of information available within this
visual field is dependent on attentional state. It appears that fear
can change the quality and quantity of information via alterations in
the attentional system (see ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box` for more
intense discussion), but since it is not advantageous to have
learning taking place always with the learner in a state of panic or
fear then other factors that can have a positive effect on both quality
and quantity should be considered. This will be discussed in more detail
in the next section on the
role of attentional system during learning. However, one such method is
indicated in the case of speed-readers. Specific training can affect how
wide the central part of their visual field is so that speed readers can
perceive more in any one ´look`. This is related to work carried out by
Miller (1956) who investigated the amount of information determined at
any one time. It was originally thought that these short-term images
were limited to seven chunks of information (Miller, 1956), then
five to nine chunks, but now it is thought that the number of chunks can
vary, because of the material for example. Therefore, an individual
could improve his learning efficiency by increasing visual field size
and/or increasing the amount of material learnt at one time. Methods
will be described later improving visual efficiency, and hence learning.
third and most important feature relating to visual learning is the content
of the event. The companion site, ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`,
introduces the idea of priority of features in learning and recall. It
is suggested that shape is an important characteristic of an
object or objects as shown by the use of silhouettes or shadows in
shape has to be one event characteristic stored in the brain memory of
that event and hence, the visual system uses its specific physiology to
bring this about. The object in the external environment is translated
by the visual pathway into a temporary neuronal firing grouping
representing the image (dictated the iNCA in the mechanism) and the
overall shape (lines, edges and corners) and patterns are conserved by
the activation of specific cells and specific pathways. Obviously, the
more information in the image, the better the visual memory content,
hence detail is linked with image complexity and hence, is strived at
once the information about the basic shape is gathered.
important event characteristic that has to be stored in the brain memory
is colour, which is first perceived at the initial visual sensory
organ level by the cone photoreceptors in the retina. Colour has a
physiological pathway separate to that of shape and is an important
feature because it helps to recognise/identify/distinguish something (colour
speeds up perceptual recognition of objects, Moore and Price, 1999) as
well as aiding figure/ground segmentation and being a good indicator of
movement (eyes are sensitive to very small changes in colour due to
movement or other causes). Colour like shape has important ramifications
for memory, since in the selection of an object to be held in the centre
of the field of vision, individuals are likely to notice colour
differences first and ignore changes in colour due to position or
sunlight for example (colour constancy), as well as being unlikely to
accept unnatural or different colours (e.g. less likely to accept orange
Another event characteristic stored in the
temporary brain memories is that of movement, an important
characteristic not only for the recording of sequences, but also for
object identification through the determination of function. Humans
possess the ability to quickly detect movement under various conditions.
An experiment by Johansson, von Hofsten and Jansson, 1980 showed that
individuals could identify someone moving within 1/5th of a
second. Direction (up-down, left-right etc.), speed (fast, slow-motion)
and distance from and location in the visual field (height above
eye-level, eye-level, below eye-level etc.) can also be detected.
Not only does the visual system cope with all
these variations, the brain memory system also records it in such a way
that the information is useful in the future. We know that movement must
be stored in the temporary visual images, since we have an awareness of
how something moves. We may not be able to draw it (always drawing
stationary images), but we can describe it using words after a full
initial image is recorded. We literally can only see the beginning and
perhaps the end; the rest, although obviously there, cannot be ´seen`
(only ´snap-shot` images), which implies that at the higher levels of
the brain cortical pathway only the ´changes` in the moving image are
seen. Therefore, movement can be re-defined as shape change with time
and hence, from a brain memory point of view, recording movement
requires the linking of one neuronal memory grouping representing the
image to the next, a time unit later.
´Outside the box` thinking (´Brain Memory:
Outside the Box`) suggests that movement of the individual or the
object is registered in the brain just like with the natural visual saccades.
Saccades cause the visual field to flick between objects or features of
an object within the same event and bring about an image that has a
number of core features and a number of variable features (designated ´wobble/blur`)
that are dependent on the view being observed at that time. This is a ´device`
for either storing different views of the same object accumulated over
time for example, or for counteracting the neuronal cell firing
stoppages due to extended usage so that the required sustained
activation of the relevant visual cortical areas is achieved.
In real-life, saccades may not play such an important role
because although in the laboratory it is possible to present an
individual with a single dominant object, in real-life more complicated
and fast-moving views are experienced. Therefore, the need to create
change using saccades may be superfluous.
Most natural views are a cacophony of shapes and
according to the above explanation only those objects in the centre of
the field of vision take priority. In the case of views, the visual
system has developed methods to cope with the huge numbers of objects
before it. It is likely that focus shifts from object to object or
perhaps quadrant to quadrant, depending on the individual. Single
objects in such a case may dominate the vision physically or there maybe
a conscious decision or subconscious decision to allow one object to
dominate. There are many reasons why such a decision is made, such as
size (big versus small), colour (vibrant vs muted), emotional reasons
(like vs hate), shape (round vs square) and pattern (large patterned vs
small detail). Advertisers use this conscious and subconscious visual
decision-making machinery to their own advantage wanting to steer our
visual fields to their advertised products. Also, in recent times the
surge in the use of the new generation computer games where the
role-playing individual sees his computer screen as a ´view` from his
own eyes may be attributed to a company`s success in influencing our
fields of vision with its computer graphics.
Features less important are location and size. Location
can be either absolute or relative. Absolute location of an object in
the external environment is an important feature for action, e.g. ball
throwing needs to have the target position pin-pointed exactly. However,
in the case of visual memory, absolute location of an object in the
external environment is not a necessity, since the head and eyes are
moved in order to keep the object in the centre of the visual field.
Although it is clear that a centralised location of an object is optimal
for visual memory input and steps will be taken by the individual to
optimise this, learning can occur independent of an object`s location
within the visual field as memories formed under highly emotional
Absolute location may not be important for
memory, but the relative location of an object is. If we consider that
an image is more than one object, the relevant location of each ´chunk`
of that image is important for the correct memory representation. This
is achieved by the mapping function of the visual system at the higher
levels (retinotopy) and synchronicity and connectivity of the firing of
participating parts. Relative location is determined by the same process
as that for action, i.e. depth perception using monocular and binocular
Another characteristic less important for memory than for action
is that of absolute size. The feature of size is dealt with in
brain memory in the same way as location and again absolute size is
probably irrelevant, but relative size is important. Absolute size is
determined by the shape pathway and relies on initial rod activation ´marking
out` the boundaries. For brain memory, the eye prefers to have larger
shapes in the centre of the visual field and will move or move it in
order to achieve this (e.g. to see a small object, one brings it closer
to the eyes). The visual system contains a mechanism for this
optimisation, which consists of flattening (far location, smaller
object) or fattening (near point, larger size) the lens. This could
explain why absolute size is a changeable feature in the memory system.
In recall, size of an object is always the same because the cornea/lens
size remains same. Therefore, if at the age of two the size of the image
in the lens covers 50% of its area then at the age of sixty, it is also
going to be 50% of the lens area. The size constancy rule is also
clear. This rule defines the tendency for objects to appear the same
size whether their size in retinal image is large or small. Just like
location, it is more important for visual memory to know an object`s
relative size. Objects in a group will be stored with sizes relative to
one another. The lens adapts so the objects are the same size in the
lens, so whatever the distance is from the person, the lens accommodates
so the objects are always in the same place and the same size. This
means that the image is constant independent of distance and location.
Therefore, visual memory begins with sensory activation at the
sensory organ level and relies on the physiological structure and
functioning of the pathway from organ to higher brain levels to dictate
which features of the external event are perceived and recorded. Since
sensory activation is this first stage, then it is obvious the better it
is then the higher the chance for an effective learning process.
From this collection of important visual features, there is an
order of priority and it is thought that moving events take priority
over still/stationary, colour over dark, near events over far and large
over small. Therefore, methods to improve visual awareness can
take advantage of these physiological subtleties to make learning easier
or more effective. Some methods are listed below, which bear in mind the
learning preference of the reader of this book. The methods given are
intended to stimulate and to be short activities only. Suggested methods
Increase visual field by using a method practiced by speed
readers. They widen their field of vision by starting with scan-reading
smaller words and progressing to larger and larger words.
Follow moving targets with the eyes (or left or right eye). Can
use computer games or just watching people etc. move in a crowded area.
Observe a view and look for opposites, e.g. big/small,
Do ´Spot the difference` puzzles.
Do ´Spot the object` puzzles.
Match the colours of objects using paint swatches from DIY
Learn magic tricks.
Cover a picture and describe the details of that picture or part
of that picture.
Flash playing cards in front of you and say what they are (or
flash Scrabble letters).
Find a specified letter or word in a text.
Copy drawings or pictures (whole or in part) accurately.
Do mental arithmetic.
Do Word Searches.
Do ´Join the dot` pictures.
Play computer games.
following methods need a partner:
Watch the partner perform magic tricks/illusions and try to
ascertain how they work.
Play computer games suitable for competing against someone.
Play ´I Spy`.
From a picture, let one person describe an object or person and
the other has to find out what it is by asking questions.
Play memory games, like a tray with 20 objects, a 2 minute look
and the tray is removed and the person has to remember the items on the
Play ´Snap` and other card games where quick reactions in
response to a visual stimulus is required to wín.
The value of visual memory is unquestionable, but
auditory memory, which appears to have lower kudos in the scientific
world, is also important. It plays a huge role in our lives and in our
relationships with our external and internal environments as shown by,
for example, the warning cry, laughter, thunder, and music. For readers
of this site it holds special importance in that language relies on
auditory participation. Language is not only read or written, but also
listened to and spoken, the latter two requiring activation of the
Just like with the visual system, a comprehensive
description of the auditory pathway is not given here, but instead it
can be summarised as beginning with the input of sounds from the
external environment via the sensory organ, in this case the ear. The
ear is structured to accommodate and define the auditory features and
for learning to occur temporary sensory stores are formed in the brain.
Sustained activation of these stores leads to permanent storage of the
sounds with other sensory information if present (the sNCA) and this
occurs at the appropriate higher brain levels.
Auditory memory can be said to possess several general
1) Auditory memory exists, but is
different to visual memory in that a recalled auditory memory cannot be
´imagined`. To explain this, think about a visual memory and if you
close your eyes, you can see an image. With an auditory memory, think
about the memory and you appear not to hear the original sound, only a
´representation of the sound`. For example if you imagine
Pavarotti singing Nessen dorma, you can ´picture` him, see
perhaps his mouth move, but the words you hear are only your ´representation`
of the words of the aria. Even though you may be able to describe
accurately his voice tones and the emotional impression it made on you
and you can recognise it if you hear it again, you still cannot actually
imagine it from ´memory`, like you can with the visual information.
Therefore, ´real-time` input is hearing it, but in ´unreal time` only
a ´representation` can be ´heard`.
2) Auditory memory exists ´out
of context` (e.g. recognise someone´s voice even though
surroundings are not familiar) and ´in context` (e.g. recognise a
particular aria being sung by Pavarotti at a particular concert). This
is important for speech. Although nouns are learnt being related to the
appropriate visual image, later the words are used in communication when
the object probably is not present.
3) Auditory memory demonstrates,
like visual memory, varying levels of priority to sound
characteristics. The feature of frequency representing the sound content
(pitch) appears to have the highest priority and this is recorded along
with a timing/order element that determines how this feature changes
with time, e.g. sequences such as music. Intensity (loudness) and
absolute location appear not to be important for auditory memory, but
are important for auditory perception.
auditory input is perceived by the auditory pathway from the low level
sensory organ, the ear, to the higher level cortical areas and there it
forms temporary stores, which are shifted to permanent ones by sustained
activation of the firing cells. This information can stand alone, or
more likely be a part of a multi-sensory record of the event. Short
activities to improve auditory awareness and hence learning are
Singing along with played music, especially if piece is not
particularly well known.
Saying tongue twisters or rhymes.
Determining peoples` accents/dialects and/or other speech
Playing bingo or similar games where reactions are required in
response to auditory signals (simple method - bang on the table when the
word ´and` is said in a radio/podcast broadcast).
Guessing the song/piece of music or guessing what comes next.
Altering the volume control on the sound provider, e.g. MP3
player so that you have to strain to hear it.
Increasing the speed at which sound is delivered so you have to
concentrate to understand it.
Practicing Morse code or other codes where sound is the key.
Listening to orchestra/group music, e.g. choirs, pop groups so
that each instrument/singer/sound can be identified from the others.
Listening to the radio or other equipment where sound is the only
Mimicking speech or music from others.
Doing simple mental arithmetic.
In the dark, throw something small and guess where it has landed.
Play any games or sports, or take part in any hobby activity
where instructions are spoken and have to be followed to the letter,
sensory activation in the case of
Each of the four language functions exists due to a mixture of
different physiological systems, including the sensory visual and
auditory pathways and motor movements. Some of the skills
required for successful language function are summarised in Table 2.
Table 2 - Skills required for
Since there is interrelation between the four areas, then the
different skills must act simultaneously. For example: reading with
speaking, e.g. reading out aloud; reading with listening, e.g. listening
to tapes whilst reading. Therefore, as far as biochemistry and
physiology is concerned, language is challenging because it not only
requires the visual and auditory sensory systems, but also motor systems
(e.g. for speech). It also rarely exists in the ´single moment in
time`-type event as objects do, with sequences instead being the
predominant form. Sensory systems must also be capable of perceiving the
basic and more advanced forms of the language, as well as using them
with or without stimulus from the external environment. For example, the
visual system must be capable of detecting the lines, curves and dots
that make up the letters of the Germanic language as well as grouping
them into syllables, then words and sentences. Linked with the words is
the application of common meaning, standard for individuals sharing the
It is not necessary here to understand fully the biochemical and physiological processes involved in language learning or use, instead to concentrate on why language is important and how to improve it. This is a study designed to help improve learning efficiency of people who prefer to learn with language and therefore, any improvement in the language skills can have a beneficial knock-on effect for learning. Methods to improve such skills are many-fold and some are:
1) Expand your normal reading or read texts not normally a part of your daily life. Use encyclopaedias or other reference material.
2) Do crossword puzzles.
3) Listen to and take part in documentaries, discussions, forums and debates either orally or written.
4) Play Scrabble and other word-forming games.
5) Write a diary or write social networking site updates regularly.
6) Write short fictional stories (30 words or more).
7) Read a news item and try to formulate a heading. Check against original if available.
8) Copy sentences either completely or just half and finish it yourself. Compare to original if possible and review success. (Can be carried out on a larger scale by copying half a story and making up your own end, or writing sequels to well-known stories or fairytales for example.)
9) Learn poems, sayings, quotes, rhymes etc.
10) Find particular words in a text and replace, e.g. find all nouns and replace with others or small descriptive phrases that mean the same thing.
11) Learn synonyms, antonyms etc. for common words using a thesaurus.
12) Make-up spellings for restaurants, animals, jobs etc.
13) Do Word Searches.
14) Learn related words by looking at foreign language learning lessons or books (related words are normally grouped together so that they can be learnt easily by a non-native speaker).
15) Formulate ´pro and con` arguments for topics in the news.
16) Play ´Hangman`.
17) Play word games such as define five categories and write a word of more than 6 letters. For each letter making up the word, give one item of each category.
18) Design and describe imaginary objects, areas, equipment etc. For example design an adventure playground for dogs or design a car that runs on plant power.
19) Play ´Twenty questions`, ´Charades` or any equivalent guessing game.
20) Look at the top word on a random page in a dictionary and see if you can use it at least 5 times in the next 2 hours.
concentrate` or ´Pay attention` are two of the many sayings used
to bring an individual back to consciously concentrating on the learning
or recall task at hand. Attention is another skill that is important to
learning and it is important because, whether consciously controlled
(top-down) or not (bottom-up, guided by external environment and sensory
systems responses), it plays a role in every stage of the brain memory
mechanism. A deficit manifests itself in poor learning via input or
storage deficits and an inability to recall and carry out tasks.
According to the brain memory mechanism proposed here, attention has three
main functions and they are thought to be:
It provides focus and attention
on stimuli, i.e. sensory pathway
activation due to sensory organ firing relevant to external events or
It monitors conflict between information from the external
environment and that stored in memories and re-activated.
It inflicts a sense of timing on tasks.
Focus and attention has a role in influencing the
stimulus in every stage of the brain memory mechanism. According to the
mechanism advocated here and summarised in the companion site, ´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`, attention exists in one of three
interchangeable attentional states:
These three attentional states are linked to changes in
the brain memory process and other cognitive functions and some of
these are shown in Table 3.
Table 3 – Brain memory changes and the various attentional
Regarding brain memory, the normal focused and fear attentional
states are important. In the normal attentional state objects in
the visual sensory field cause neuronal firing from the sensory organ
along the visual pathway to the relevant higher cortical areas, but the
unique firing patterns are not maintained due to the constant head, neck
and body movements (the sensation of ´flitting`). This means that the
conditions required for learning, i.e. the formation of the short-term
memory stores recording the event, are not met. Focusing the
attention on a particular sensory experience within the sensory
field however results in positive changes in cognitive function (Table
3). The act of focusing attention means biochemically that in the case
of the visual system, the object or location of choice remains in the
visual field and particularly in the foveal area, the centre.
The stimulus then causes appropriate cells to fire, which
activate the relevant pathways from the sensory organ to the brain and
temporary sensory stores are formed in the cortical layers representing
the incoming information. ´Holding` the stimulus in this position may
require movement of the head or eyes for example, and this results in
sustained activation of those fired cells and a shift from the brain
memory temporary sensory stores to the short-term memory stores (the
iNCA), occurs. This means that in the normal focused attentional state
learning can occur and the content is dependent on the sensory cells
fired at the sensory organ level to the corresponding higher brain
Recognised psychologist theories advocate that
all incoming information is either partially or fully processed (Treisman,
1964 and Deutsch and Deutsch, 1963) according to perceptual load
capacity (Lavie, 1995) – essentially a limit to the amount
processed at any one time. In biochemical terms this means that the
information entering through the foveal point (the centre) is likely to
be fully processed and will cause ultimately the response, whether it is
an action or brain memory formation. Other information from the
peripheral areas of the visual field can also be processed to the point
of recognition (full processing), which means that their pathways are
also fired to their end-point in the cortex, or they can be partially
processed, if perceptual capacity is restricted: the higher the level of
cortex stimulated, the greater the complexity of the input.
It is this perceptual load capacity that is
changed in the third attentional state, the ´fear` state. Certain
features of the ´fear` attentional system remain unchanged compared
to the normal systems and these are:
1) Control is still through two systems (Corbetta and Shulman
2002, Posner 1980) – one top-down (consciously controlled) and the
other bottom-up (controlled by the external circumstances and low level
sensory organ activity).
2) All stimuli in the visual field
and other sensory fields are processed fully or partially according to
perceptual load theory (Lavie, 1995).
3) Selection of stimuli can still
be location-based, object-based or both. (Search capability appears to
be quicker in the fear state, but this may be an illusion since finer
details are lost or the individual is less distracted by them.)
However, the fear attentional state appears to induce two
changes in the mechanism for brain memory input. These are that
perceptual load capacity appears to be increased and secondly
that the normal biochemical ´holding` of the object within the sensory
field required for memory formation appears not to be met by the sensory
The first difference, the increase in perceptual load capacity,
was found to be attributed to the activity of certain brain areas
involved in attentional and emotional states and these are the
prefrontal cortex and the amygdala already discussed, and another area,
the anterior cingulated cortex. Memories formed under ´fear` conditions
appear to be all encompassing, which implies that details that are under
normal circumstances not remembered form in this case part of the memory
of the event.The actual perceptual load capacity increases through
amygdala action on the thalamus. This effect increases sensory input,
perhaps brought about by a change in number or type of thalamic cells
stimulated or through action on the pulvinar nuclei.
Normally, the pulvinar nuclei of the thalamus prevent attention
being focused on unwanted stimuli, but in this case when the inhibiting
effect is removed, more input from the stimuli occurs by increasing the
functioning of certain parts of the sensory pathways (the lateral
geniculate nucleus for the visual system for example). This also
provides a link between the
attentional system and the emotional system.
Another observation by Adolphs, Tranel and
Buchanan (2005) showed that also in these circumstances the quality
of the information stored was decreased, i.e. there is a reduction
in the level of detail. For example, maybe less reference points are
inputted, or shape takes priority over contrast details, so that an
object may have shape and colour, but pattern details are missing. This
could be at the processing, i.e. cortical level or at the level of the
sensory organ activation. This hypothesis supports the nature of the
circumstances instigating this change, e.g. ´fight or flight` tactics in fear circumstances probably
appoint more importance on shape and movement of objects in the external
environment than on pattern. As far as brain memory is concerned, the
level of input reflects the level of memory of the event. Detail may be
conscious or subconscious dependent on perceptual load capacity, if at
all remembered. However, more research is required to demonstrate
whether this is indeed the case and so for the time being, we must
assume that in the ´fear` attentional state, there is increased
perceptual load capacity with increased levels of task relevant material
perhaps with a loss of detail, and increased levels of what can seem
like task-irrelevant information.
The second difference in brain memory input between conditions in
normal attentional state and the ´fear` attentional state is that it
appears that the normal biochemical conditions attributed to memory
formation seem not to be met. Sustained activation of firing cells
through ´holding` the stimulus in the sensory field appears not
to be applicable in the ´fear` circumstance, since the external
environment is often rapidly changing and repetition or ´holding` even
via individual movement cannot occur. Even so, memories of fear events
are often far more encompassing than normal and therefore, it must be
concluded that the sustained activation of the neuronal cell pathways to
consolidate the temporary sensory stores into the more longer-term short
term memory stores must occur, albeit not in the same way as in normal
The mechanism advocated here involves a change in internal
timing using the capability of neuronal cells in certain areas,
namely the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and thalamus, to fire without
external stimulus. Changing the timing of firing, i.e. ´holding the
firing` of the cells where the external stimulus no longer exists, as in the case of the
rapidly changing ´fear` external environment, may mean that sustained
activation can be maintained internally for those cells, whereas other
cells will be responding to the ´real-time` external stimulus.
Therefore, the internally ´held` cells and their subsequent pathways
will be ´detached` from the ´real-time` events and the representation
at the higher cortical levels will be of an event that in part no longer
exists. A change in synchronicity between the two types of ´stimulus`
must therefore exist. Support for such a theory comes from the
perception that time appears slower in ´fear` situations.
Just like with the normal attentional states, the ´fear`
attentional state is linked with the emotional system. In this
case, however, the noradrenaline-based brain system appears to dominate
and the state brings about the physiological and cognitive effects
required for the situation. Important ´players` in the emotional
system, e.g. the amygdala, cingulated cortex and prefrontal cortex
mirror the important ´players` creating the ´fear` attentional state.
However, the prefrontal cortex ´sliding switch` mechanism suggested for
the recording of the emotional tag is skewed to reflect the activated
noradrenaline system in its ´on-off` manner and under
such conditions the emotional tag stored with any incoming sensory
information will reflect the heightened physiological state. Therefore,
to summarise in the ´fear` attentional state basic memory mechanisms
remain the same, but more basic information appears to be learnt with no
repetition or ´holding` necessary.
Therefore, the memory stages and the
memories formed are affected by the attentional state existing at that
time. Attention affects the input stage in the following ways:
Spontaneous or undirected attention favours particular
features of externally placed objects/events according to
physiological feature priority rules, e.g. shape and movement in
preference to stationary (affordance/function important); colour in
preference to dark and light. These characteristics make up the core
features of the event. Other features affected by attention are relative
size of object and relative location of object in sensory field, e.g.
large object even in background is likely to overshadow attention for a
whimsical one in the foreground.
Visual attention is dictated not only by features, but also visual
field, which is determined by head/neck/eye positions plus the
physical state of the organs involved, e.g. myopia. Related to this are
the Posner and Peterson control models, e.g. alerting, orienting
(disengage, shift, re-engage) and executive control.
Attention to objects in the sensory field is not only brought
about by physical characteristics, but also from language (speech or
thought) and cognitive actions, e.g. something familiar is likely to
overshadow something unfamiliar in a group portrait, or objects with
highly emotional values dominating others of lesser emotional worth.
Attention can also be controlled top-down, e.g. due to interest,
expectation, emotional values and it can also be hijacked by undesired
objects as distraction demonstrates.
can positively influence attention on particular stimuli by increasing
the level of familiarity and hence, increasing the priority of this
material as a sensory stimulus.
Not all input is attended. Attention dictates the field,
quality of incoming information and quantity through perceptual load
theory. It is linked to emotional system activity.
attention will lead to effects on both quality and quantity of
material selected to be inputted.
In the case of input of sequences, changes in the level of
attention follows the sequence input, learning and recall. Not only
conscious input of sequences is undertaken, but if possible also
subconscious (context memory). This depends on the level of perceptual
The fear emotional state will lead to changes in quality
and quantity of information inputted and mirrors the attentional state
Attention provides the conditions by which sensory stores are
converted to short-term memory stores through the sustained
activation of sensory pathways. This occurs when the object remains
in the sensory field, a task allotted to the actions of certain brain
areas responsible for the visual system, as well as the lateral
intraparietal cortex (LIP) and pulvinar nuclei of thalamus.
Attention affects the stimuli in
the storage stage in the following ways:
Attention on objects within the sensory field dictates what is
stored long-term providing conditions of sustained activation are
met. The amount of attended and unattended information stored is
dependent on perceptual load capacity rules.
Attention can keep the focus on core/high priority features
so that these features are stored.
In the case of sequences, attention can lead to the
holding by internal means of features necessary for the event memory.
In variable storage, attention leads to the focus remaining on
new input as well as re-activation of stored material.
Attention affects the stimuli in
the various recall methods in the following ways:
In recall without processing (i.e recall of memories just
as they are in response to adequate stimulus, incoming information
stimulates recall of memories as they are and therefore, attention and
focus dictate what recall takes place.
In recall with processing (i.e. the initial stimulus is
inadequate at providing a suitable recalled memory and therefore a
change in stimulus is required), a change of focus is instigated through
the conflict signal resulting from the attentional state heightening.
This leads to new input and hence, hopefully to a satisfactory recall.
In recall with further processing (i.e. the initial
stimulus fails to provide adequate recall and many steps of processing
may be required before a suitable result is obtained), attention plays
different roles in the various stages. In the purpose and input stages,
attention on the task and attention on the external environment leads to
two different input stimuli. In the solutions stage, attention leads to
incoming information leading to the magic answer solution or other
stimuli for the construction of possible options based on designated
criteria, e.g. emotional views, consequences and sequels. In the choice
stage of recall with further processing then attention leads to stimuli
so that decision-making can be made based on ´heart` or ´head`
choices. And for the final stage, attention leads to stimuli so that the
purpose can be compared to the result of the action.
The second function of attention, according to the mechanism
advocated here and summarised in the companion site, ´Brain Memory:
Outside the Box`, is the registration and monitoring of conflict
in the cortical/higher brain cells between incoming/stimulus information
and re-activating groups of information previously stored. The
registration of conflict will heighten the attentional state from
normal focused to fear state, which results in a change in quality and
quantity of incoming information as described above. Conflict occurs
within the working memory (like a mental ´white board`) and is observed
in particular stages of the brain memory mechanism. For example in:
In all cases, the registration and monitoring of conflict leads
to changes in quality and quantity of input instigated through
the heightening of the attentional state and the activation of the
amygdala, anterior cingulated cortex and appropriate prefrontal cortex
areas as described above.
third role for the attentional system in recall is more ´esoteric` in
that the brain memory mechanism advocated in the companion site suggests
that it imposes a subconscious time constraint on recall tasks.
The time constraint begins with the instigation of the task (in this
case sensory activation and stored memory firing) and ends when the
appropriate answer i.e. ´electrical image` (´magic answer`) occurs. If
we consider the recall process in the case of unknown object
recognition, the process begins with the incoming sensory information
and the systems are relaxed until the point when we consider that
recognition is not possible, then fear/panic sets in. This indicates
that there is a subconscious time constraint on the process. ´Outside
the box` thinking suggests that the time constraint could be the dying
of the reactivated memory activation through unprolonged firing,
although this is probably not feasible since impairment of recognition
is likely to keep the object in the sensory focus, hence sustaining
activation. Another suggestion is that there is an internal mental clock
and the attentional system monitors the functioning of this clock.
Personal perception of time can be described with examples of internal systems as in the circadian rhythms of sleep and oestrogen brought about by hormonal changes and examples of external timing systems, such as clocks and working shift patterns. This personal perception of time can undergo changes, such as that observed in ´fight or flight` responses or boredom. Time as far as the brain memory mechanism is concerned relates to synchronicity of information and this reflects more an ´order-type timing` which can be recorded in the memory trace, rather than absolute values and a ´stop-watch` type timing function. ´Outside the box` thinking suggests that this latter process requires an internal mental clock that instigates actual timing on the mechanism. This is required so that the brain does not waste time and energy on processes that will not lead to successful conclusions, i.e. recall, and therefore, will bring about changes in order a favourable outcome will occur. Here it is suggested that the attentional system plays a role in monitoring this internal mental clock and when the operation is not completed within a certain time limit, then it will instigate changes in order to do so, e.g. cause a change in focus so different sensory information is inputted providing different firing stimuli. Although elaborate timing systems could be hypothesised, it is more likely that in this case the internal mental clock is more like an ´egg-timer` and two systems match the criteria for this type of clock: the coincidence-detection model relating to the functioning of the striatum found in the basal ganglia); and the action of a cellular protein, called ECTO-NOX (Westphal, 2004). Both of these ´outside the box` proposals may lead to the ´egg-timer` monitoring of the recall process by the attentional system, but this is only a hypothesis. What is certain is that the attentional system and activity of the prefrontal cortex, cingulated cortex and amygdala is the key to the initiation of panic signals if action does not occur within a certain time period. Ultimately, it prevents the brain using cellular resources for an activity unlikely to be successfully completed and promotes instead a change in cognitive tactics.
methods to improve attention
We have to accept that attention allows a finite amount of
subconscious learning capability and a finite amount of conscious
learning capability at any one time. Therefore, optimisation of the
learning process would require an increase in both subconscious and
conscious learning capability. We can use training to increase attention
and hence, quality and quantity of information. Methods include:
Increase sensory fields, e.g. use speed-reading techniques to
widen the visual field.
Keep sensory fields on targets rather than flit/wander, e.g. use
meditation techniques concentrating on one object such as a candle,
bear; decrease size of visual stimuli or auditory stimuli so that
attention has to focus on required material; use visual or auditory
training exercises such as watching rolling ball.
Decrease number of repetitions necessary, e.g. use memory cards
or puzzles to make attention match task.
Decrease length of time for sustained activation/holding, e.g.
focus on one object only so that perceptual load capacity is entirely
taken up by attended/task relevant object.
Shift as much as possible from conscious to subconscious memory
(automatic processing advantage) via learning through repetition for
Increase multitasking, e.g. use tabs on the computer, hone
divided attention techniques (e.g. try listening to different sounds in
Use priming to increase the amount of knowledge taken in on any
one go by relating it to already familiar material.
Use language (inner speech, loud speech) to target attention and
maintain focus, e.g. practice with ´Spot the difference` puzzles, or ´Find
the object in a picture`- type puzzles.
Change inner timing function so that time appears slower, for
example through heightening attentional state by dissociating internal
thought from external stimuli. Give
a deadline so working to a time limit.
Hone emotional system so learning optimised (e.g. jump up and
down and repeat; keep calm). Use inner speech to be positive, e.g. ´I
can do this`.
Shift from static/single stimulus to sequence learning (automatic
processing), e.g. use movement in stimuli to take advantage of priority
Introduce multi-modality to improve attention and improve amount
learnt in one go.
Increase attention on sensory system input by decreasing volume
or decreasing size of image. Can use computer games, which require fast
responses to rapid sensory input.
Stimulate focus and attention by doing quick puzzles, e.g mazes
and word games.
Sayings such as, ´Think about it` or ´Work
it out` reflect the importance of thinking and processing on
learning and recall. Our complicated environment means that we need to
remember huge amounts of facts, but this environment is also constantly
changing. Since it is impossible to experience and learn all scenarios
we must use, either directly or indirectly, the knowledge we accumulate
to make sense of it. This ability is what makes us human and what makes
each human unique.
effect of thinking and processing
on the brain memory stages
Thinking could be said to be especially important
to those of us who learn using language, since language is the tool by
which thinking occurs. Therefore, if we use language we automatically
think. As far as brain memory is concerned, thinking can play a role in
every stage of the mechanism and does so in one of two ways:
Thinking can affect every stage of the brain
memory mechanism involved in conscious learning. In the first stage, the
input of sensory information, thinking (or speech) can lead to
the conscious placing of sensory fields (top-down control of
sensory input). This is important in, for example, the search for
particular objects or in the input for sequences, where each step is
learnt and repeated. Conscious sensory field placing can also lead to
the selection of objects/events by their value, which reflects the
interests, aims and opinions of the individual. According to the
mechanism advocated here, there is no processing at this stage.
In the next stage, that of storage,
thinking leads to the controlled repetition or holding of events
so that the sustained activation condition required for the shift from
short-term storage to long-term storage is met. It can also lead to the
search for distinctive features so that new information can be added to
a previously stored grouping, such as ´filling-in` of features or the
creation of the generic version. This increases the knowledge base of
In certain cases, thinking and processing can
take place before storage takes place (termed here variable storage).
The conflict signal registered in the working memory state due to the
incoming information and the re-activated previously stored material
leads to a heightened attentional state as described before. In this
case, thinking and processing is carried out to:
for the roles of thinking and processing in the storage stage come from:
Level of Processing theory (Craig and Lockhart, 1972) -
essentially the more something is worked on, the better something is
order of intake observations - primacy and recency theory,
where first and last things are remembered best. Thinking and processing
can counteract this,
and the use of particular learning methods - mind maps and
anagrams for example which require thought to be put into the
information before being stored.
In recall, thinking and processing has increasing importance with
increasing amount of dissimilarity between incoming information and
stored information and task. In the simplest recall method, recall
without processing (´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`),
conscious thinking leads to the selection of stimuli and the awareness
of a successful recall. When this is not achieved or if conflict is
evoked between the stimulus input and the re-activated cells of the
stored memories, feelings of uncertainty or acknowledgement that it is
not completely correct or will not fulfil the task, result. Then recall
with processing takes place, where subconscious processes directed
by the attentional system will result in a change in sensory field
(termed in this version accidental frame change or widening the scope)
so that new stimuli placed in the sensory fields will elicit a
satisfactory recall. There can be conscious awareness of this shift and
thinking may even direct the sensory fields so that the storage methods
of generic version and categorisation can aid in a successful outcome
through the use of inferences. Therefore, in both recall without
processing and with processing, conscious thinking can guide as well as
re-enforce the stimuli presented by the use of language to add extra
However, not all recall is simple and a further more complicated
recall method is required in situations where incoming information and
stored information have no chance of bringing about a successful outcome
without intervention, e.g. in problem-solving. Therefore, recall occurs
via the mechanism described in ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`)
for recall with further processing. In this type of recall,
thinking and processing of information play major roles. For example:
In the purpose stage – conscious thinking leads to
the definition of purpose for performing the task by being aware of the
current position of the individual or state of affairs and comparing
this to the future, the goal. Therefore, the goal is identified
according to previous experience, if not dictated by external means. In
the purpose stage, language can play a vital role, since identification
of the goal may not be clearly observable and more than one step may be
In the input stage – conscious thinking can lead to
controlled input according to points of access selection rules as
described in the companion site, such as the answer to the question, ´who`
requires a person as answer. Therefore, conscious thinking will lead to
recall of specific memory types in response to the purpose.
In the solutions stage – there is conscious
awareness that intervention is required to bring about a successful
conclusion to the recall session. Therefore, conscious thinking and
information processing skills construct the optimal strategy (´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`) to achieve the purpose of the task. This
may involve language and logical thinking to dismiss, put forward or
compare different option methods, e.g. look at how each option affects
other people or how each option would lead to unwanted complications. On
the other hand, subconscious processing may lead to the selection of a
method whether optimal or not, purely due to frequency of its use or
whether strong emotional values are attached.
In the choice stage – in this stage there is
conscious awareness that an ideal, simple solution has not been found
amongst the possible options chosen in the previous stage. Therefore, a decision
will have to be made to remedy the situation (´Brain Memory: Outside
the Box`). The decision process may be carried out without conscious
thinking relying on such things as responding to highly emotional
values, habit, or laziness, but thinking and processing can direct the
method to looking logically at the options available. In this case,
assessment of the options is based on frequency, similarity and level of
In the outcome stage – conscious awareness indicates
whether in the eyes of the individual the result of the recall stage
matches the goal (purpose). If successful, then conscious thinking is
not necessary, but if unsuccessful conscious thinking will lead to
either an acceptance of the result as it stands or a re-think of the
to improve thinking and processing
We can see from above that thinking and processing influences
every stage of learning and recall, and therefore, any improvement in
application or method may lead to an increase in brain memory
efficiency. In the brain memory mechanism advocated here, thinking and
processing are associated with language ability and communication skills
(particularly relevant to those of us who use language to learn and
recall), intelligence, expertise and so on, i.e. fundamentally linked
with the working of material in all stages. Therefore, methods to
improve brain memory relate to this function and a few changes can have
a huge effect. Some methods for example are:
Change your attitude - anything is better than
nothing. Fate or lack of active thought and processing can bring
learning and recall success, but more likely than not at best the
optimum is not achieved and at worst, the wrong things could be learnt
or a task incorrectly solved. Therefore, in the absence of a clear path
determined by experience, then any effort expended in thinking or
processing information relating to any stage of the brain memory
mechanism is better than nothing. A change in attitude may be required,
so that the information is worked in the input stage (e.g. select what
you want to select rather than leave it to the domination of the
strongest features), in storage (e.g. combine what you are learning with
what you know already by looking at similarities, differences etc., ask
yourself questions to expand what you know instead of just rote
learning), and in recall, question whether the task has been solved to
the best of your ability rather than accepting the best of what is
available from the previously stored experiences accumulated. A change
in attitude might also be required so that confidence is not destroyed
by failure or confrontation from others, for example and effort is
rewarded however small. Memories are unique to the individual and so is
the approach that the individual takes and this individuality should be
accepted as an advantage rather than to be feared.
Start off easy - start off with the familiar. One
of the advantages of our brain memory system is how brain memories,
whether in part or whole, are linked to one another. Therefore, thinking
about one thing will spur on related thoughts based on our experiences.
When presented with something difficult, it is probably advisable to
start by looking at the familiar, e.g. a known object or pattern. This
has two advantages: the first - one may be lucky and activation of the
stored groupings related to this familiar event may stimulate others
that provide the individual eventually with the knowledge required,
without any complicated processing stage (an advantage of priming,
for example); and secondly, the positive emotional effect of knowing
something can induce the individual to search, widen, challenge and so
on so that eventually the right result is obtained. Although it is
tempting to skip these early stages, rarely do we become ´experts` in
something without them. These early stages also give us a chance to
expand our knowledge base by introducing topics that we may not normally
be subjected to and this has already been suggested as a way of
expanding the knowledge base.
Work the material – look at the detail. A
book is not just a book; a view is not just a set of objects located
before you. By working the material through thinking (using language
-thought, inner and loud speech) and processing, each learning and
recall stage can be improved and this has been described above. Methods
for doing this are many, for example, use interrogation-like techniques
(i.e. ask questions as if you were a reporter, policeman, teacher –
choose the meanest questions possible to stretch you); use word games
such as ´7 steps to…´, anagrams, ´find the best similar ….`, ´5
similarities/differences to…`; use brain storming techniques based on
the mind-map, e.g. match … to ….. Thinking and processing can also
be improved in general by games and puzzles (chess, logic puzzles), or
challenging third party activities such as TV documentaries, lectures,
non-fictional books. The only proviso is that conscious thought has to
be made by for example, carrying out a critical assessment of what is
Expand your interests. The ability to think and process relies on not only the
processing techniques and tools (such as language) available, but also
on the knowledge base a person has. During our lifetime, we expand our
knowledge base through personal experiences and thought, and hence,
restricted stimulation can limit the knowledge one has. Methods to
improve this have already been described earlier. Most people have no
difficulty in absorbing knowledge or seeking out experiences for
subjects they like. The problem comes when the subject is not
– a common situation in school learning, for example. A method
to overcome this is to turn the subject into something you do like. For
example, if you like people, then that history project about Egyptians
becomes easier to learn if you consider the events from one person`s
point of view or from a social class. By turning the topic into
something that one is familiar with or likes then learning becomes less
of a chore. This also involves more thinking and processing, which is
advantageous to the learning process.
Use unusual techniques.
Conscious thinking can expand the use of strategies such as in the
selection of stimuli or in decision-making. Habit and regular use of
favourite techniques can lead to staid, predictable results and even if
they are successful then an injection of creativity in using unfamiliar
methods can stimulate, evoke a fresh look at a something and increase a
positive sense of well-being. Alternative methods can include for
example: in input, the selection of lesser characteristics or pattern,
or objects in the periphery rather than centrally positioned; in
storage, the association of new material with more avant-garde memories
such as those found in examples where creativity is shown; and in the
case of recall, the use of less favourite techniques for the
construction of options, e.g. consider all plus or minus points instead
of looking at how something will affect you or other people, or in
decision-making, e.g. assess using risk strategy rather than always
choosing your favourite. Even in some situations, non-logical methods
could be considered such as throwing a coin, or taking the first option
that presents itself. These are not cases where thinking and processing
are paramount, but the mere act of choosing randomly could instigate
conscious responses even if only to explain to others what you have
by thinking and processing in any brain memory stage, the material
learnt and the material recalled could be changed, which could be an
advantage to the learning and recall process.
´Practice makes perfect` is a saying relating
to learning, but why is it necessary to repeat something at all? Surely,
it is enough just to experience something once? From our own experiences
we know that when we do something only once, then we remember only a
part of what happened. So, why do we need to repeat something? The
answer lies in the brain memory mechanism itself as described in
´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`. Repetition as seen in practice
for example, provides continued firing of the sensory pathways of the
incoming information so that sustained activation at the higher cortical
levels is achieved. This leads to the conversion of sensory stores and
short-term stores to long-term storage of the new information.
Therefore, practice strengthens the information already stored and also,
allows more details to be added. For example, consider the game where
there is a tray with 20 objects placed upon it. The names of the objects
are learnt one (or a group) at a time, based on the chunking theory that
only 5-9 units can be learnt at any one time. Each repetition
strengthens the temporary memory stores of the ones already learnt and
allows new ones to be added. This type of learning is even more apparent
in learning of sequences such as shoelace tying or pieces of music.
It has been suggested that practice in terms of
learning should involve 7 – 15 repetitions to be successful. However,
it is more likely that the number of repetitions required varies
according to the difficulty of the material, the mood of the learner,
unfamiliarity of the material etc. and therefore, no definitive number
can be placed upon it. The individual should then practice as much as
necessary, but bear in mind, conscious repetition with lots of material
´working` is far better than blind/rote practice. The use of language
strengthens the success and ease at which the material is learnt.
The other role of practice is to prevent loss of the stored
memories, essentially forgetting. Forgetting can be defined as a
failure to remember and both Ebbinghaus (1885) and Linton (1978) showed
that there is a natural progression of memory failure with time.
Biochemically, forgetting could be due to poor input (information fails
to convert from sensory stores to short term memory stores because of
lack of attention for example), storage problems (conditions for
long-term storage are not met or material has been forgotten due to
higher frequency of other material as in the case of conditioning
extinction) or recall difficulties (where defects in processing,
decision-making etc. manifest as memory recall problems). However, a
large majority of psychologists (84%) believe that the failure lies in
the permanent storage stage compared to 69% of non-psychologists (Loftus
and Loftus, 1980) and this indicates that forgetting is likely to be
caused by deficiencies at the latter two stages of the brain memory
mechanism, the storage and recall stages.
Not that forgetting is accepted by the individual as inevitable.
The importance of the brain memory system with the regards to
interpretation of the constantly changing environment and social
conditions and the number of influences on the process itself means that
the system has to have some inbuilt safety measures to compensate
for loss of capability. ´Outside the box` thinking suggests that these
safety measures can fall into one of four categories:
adaptability – aptly demonstrated by distributed brain area and
function, mass action and equipotentiality and cognitive reserve. Also
includes the adaptation of other areas to take over specific functions
flexibility- shown by automatic processing and shift to conscious
processing, changes in attention, e.g. divided attention and responses
to physiological conditions such as emotions, sleep and tiredness, and
even ´shut-down` during coma or sleep.
flexibility – the instigation of ´back up` brain memory through the
formation of multiple associations, reframing changes from alterations
in input due to changing objectives, ignoring value-laden words and
prompter influence and the effect of training and instruction.
adjustment – includes the ability to shift from future planning to
considering only the ´real-time` or safeguard the individual by
thinking of only the past, or repression of the past.
These measures allow changes in biochemical efficacy to occur without effects on performance being apparent. However, forgetting can and does occur. Preventing or reducing this loss can be helped by revision of the learnt material, which is essentially repetition. Biochemically, this re-activates the memories and hence, through this re-activation strengthens them. Buzan (1974) suggested a revision schedule to prevent forgetting and this is discussed further in the later sections when guidelines for learning are given.
to consider relating to practice are:
Whatever one feels about practice, it is a necessary step
in learning, whether deliberate in sequence learning or part of the
normal learning process in factual memory formation. Accepting that
learning is important means that the learner is more amenable to spend
time practicing and hence, improvements in learning can be observed if
the practice techniques are appropriate to the task at hand.
knows that a person`s character is reflected by their behaviour and it
appears that includes approach to learning and brain memory, too.
Possible areas of the brain memory mechanism where personality and
attitude can have an effect are given in Table 4.
Table 4 - Possible areas of brain
memory where personality can have an effect
For a more detailed investigation
we have to look at individual personality traits.
factor pairs and the brain memory mechanism
Catell (1946) defined 16 personality
factor pairs, with each characteristic at the end of a continuum
(Table 5). Individuals demonstrate different personality traits and
these are at different points along the continuum for each pair.
Table 5 – Catell`s personality
factor pairs (1946)
Obviously, this is a simplified view of
characteristics since each is represented by a continuum and no one
exhibits purely traits at each end of the scale or a single scale only,
but for study purposes we have to take it so. In this section, we have
to look how individual personality traits affect learning and memory
according to the mechanism advocated here and considering that the brain
memory mechanism has parts, some of which are physiologically determined
(e.g. neural transmission, long-term memory changes) and some parts,
that are under personal control. It is possible that it is the latter
group, which is influenced by personality.
The factors of the brain memory mechanism considered are:
Each personality trait affects the
learning mechanism differently and a full account of the investigation
is given in the book, ´Learning with Words` (Salt, 2012). For
the purposes of this website, however,
we continue with how to improve learning and memory.
memory taking personality into account
general method and first stage
If we assume that the brain memory mechanism is
likely to be affected by personality traits then we can suggest how
weaknesses can be improved, in order that the efficiency of learning and
recall is increased. This process has 3 stages:
Assessment of own personality and recognition of possible
Determination of likely weaknesses in the brain memory mechanism
associated with those traits.
Application of suitable methods to combat the areas where
improvement can be made.
The first stage is the assessment of personality traits.
In order to do this, the individual has to make some estimate of which
traits are displayed dominantly. Obviously, to do this properly then a
professional examination is required, but in this case the remedies
suggested can be safely applied to all and therefore, this situation is
probably no different to filling in personality questionnaires in
magazines or on the Internet. Every one knows whether he or she swings
towards one trait or another, and so either a critical look at oneself,
or questioning a close friend, family member or someone who knows you
well, will give an indication of those traits that are dominant in your
personality. The list of personality traits given in Table 5 (Catell,
1946) can provide the basis of this estimate (Table 6) and it is should
be remembered that not all pairs may apply.
Table 6 – Self-examination of
stage 2 – determination of
Likely weaknesses of the personality traits related to brain
memory are listed below:
1) Reserved (impersonal, distant) – possible basic
weaknesses: uses safe material, safe processing, less people-orientated
approach (may be lack of confidence with others). Unlikely to seek out
advice, more likely to stick to facts. Emotional influence skewed where
people are concerned.
Opposite end of continuum - Outgoing
(likes people, warm) – possible basic weaknesses: favours people, uses
people-orientated material and processing (desire to please others,
places trust in others, will ask for advice). Uses empathy, uses others
experiences. Can be more adventurous but always relates back to others.
Therefore likely to ignore or dismiss important material or options in
order to conform. Emotional status relatively normal, but will have
2) Less intelligent (unable
to handle abstract problems) – possible basic weaknesses: likely to
favour familiar material and material evoking emotional extremes (will
be guided by others provided satisfy own logic, own emotional demands).
Hence knowledge base restricted to interests (therefore less creative).
Information more dramatic (e.g. colour, definitive movements etc.),
making it easy to store and reference. Emotional influence more likely
to be of the extreme. Can have trouble with distraction if not
interested or material not considered worthy. Processing and recall
methods same – suffers from extreme emotional influence, restricted
knowledge base and use of favourite and less creative methods. More
likely to use non-active decision methods even when not applicable.
Opposite end of continuum - More
intelligent (fast learner, abstract problem solver) – possible
basic weaknesses: more even approach to selection of material than less
intelligent; handling with relative ease objects/people, familiar, less
familiar as well as dramatic and less dramatic material. Can be guided
by others if situation demands. Likely to have normal emotional values.
Likely to ignore or dismiss information, processing etc. if considered
superfluous, illogical or under time constraint. Maybe a disadvantage in
that all information considered useful and therefore difficult to assign
relevancy. Can be creative using associations, methods etc. so that task
successfully completed, but can suffer from too much logic, i.e. needs a
bit of spicing up.
3) Affected by feelings (easily upset, emotional) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
guided by value system if possible (emotional system dependent), e.g.
priority to objects/people with extremes. Hence extremes registered and
values skewed. Likely to stay with more with familiar than unfamiliar
since latter likely to cause stress. Features, methods tend to be more
dramatic since initiate strong emotional response. Will ignore less
dramatic. Can be guided by others but likely to have different result
because of dominance of emotional system by individual.
Opposite end of continuum - More emotionally stable
(mature, faces reality calmly) – possible basic weaknesses: selection
of material, processing and recall not reliant solely on emotional
value, instead more logical (i.e. task relevant) with people/objects
taking equal priority. Can be guided by others and judged logically. May
need spicing up a bit, taking more avant-garde approach to stimulate
4) Humble (submissive,
- possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing
and recall suffers from the individual`s desire to bow down to others.
Probably no difference between facts pertaining to people and objects,
but likely to prefer familiar material, methods etc. (feels safe, one of
crowd,) rather than risk consequences of selecting unfamiliar. Material
is likely to be ´safer` than for assertive people and staid. Easily
guided by others and therefore material, processing, recall, and
knowledge base can reflect interests and demands of others rather than
self. Emotional values given are relatively normal if a bit downbeat
(i.e. less positive). Material chosen by others, values more negative
(fear of failure dominates).
Opposite end of continuum - Assertive
(forceful, aggressive, competitive) - possible basic weaknesses:
selection of material, processing and recall reflects confidence
associated with an aggressive, competitive nature and desire to be the
best. Will be more brash, more dramatic in the selection of material,
processing and methods; familiar and unfamiliar information handled with
the same confidence. May miss smaller details, less obvious methods,
associations etc. because concentration on larger, more obvious ones
with which to impress or assert. May re-direct unnecessarily or
inappropriately in order to maintain dominance. More likely to be the
guide, but if guided, then everything required to be ´one better`,
therefore will be more detailed. More definitive emotional information
attached to material (has to have definitive views with which to assert
over others, or be competitive).
Sober (serious, strained, silent) – possible basic weaknesses:
likely to restrict material, processing and recall to facts (stable
emotional worth required) whether relating to people or objects.
Detailed if necessary, but likely to be in general staid/conservative
and shunning fun, madcap features. Guided by others if considered ´serious`
otherwise ignored. Emotional state tends to be ´serious happy` and
values relatively normal. Lacks
creativity that comes from the ´madcap`/unconventional.
end of continuum - Happy-go-lucky (cheerful, expressive) –
possible basic weaknesses: likely to restrict selection of material,
processing and recall to ´happy` information whether people or objects.
Features likely to be dramatic, vibrant with serious ignored or shunned.
Guided by others especially if in the same vein. More problematic if
upsets ´happy-go-lucky` attitude. Emotional state tends to be happy and
therefore will try to avoid any unpleasantness leading to values skewed
towards the positive. Problem with all stages since ´happy` status has
to be maintained.
Expedient (non-conforming, disregards rules, self-indulgent) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
led by the desire of the individual to break rules or keep himself on
top independent of the task. Can have knowledge base, material, methods
etc. based on factual (must know rules in order to break them) or may
have a ´devil-may-care` attitude. No definitive requirements for
features, but often seeks out lesser details or more avant-garde in
order to be less conforming, more provocative etc. Can accept guidance
from others, but will rebel if not given the chance to non-conform.
Emotional responses and values skewed since gets a ´buzz` when
non-conforming. Therefore, seeks out situations where this will occur,
e.g. choosing non-active decision making methods.
end of continuum - Conscientious (rule-conscious, dutiful) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
likely to be based on factual (clear-cut opinions on what is right and
what is wrong). Prefers familiar since clear-cut rules, but not afraid
of unfamiliar since can transfer knowledge. Will accept guidance from
others, but will rebel if not given the chance to conform. Emotional
values and responses geared to please others.
Shy (timid, hesitant, intimidated) – possible basic weaknesses:
a mix of reserved and humble personality traits and therefore, likely to
favour material, processing and recall that is safe, familiar (no desire
to go against crowd, or put in a situation of failure in the eyes of
others). Guided by others when commanded, but unlikely to seek advice
particularly from unknown. Knowledge base can reflect interests and
demands of others rather than self. Emotional information likely to
reflect fear/panic state associated with unfamiliar material or material
linked to people, hence values reflect skewed input.
end of continuum - Venturesome (socially bold, thick-skinned,
uninhibited) – possible basic weaknesses: a mix of outgoing and
expedient personality traits and therefore, selection of material,
processing and recall based on over-confidence and lack of consideration
for others, etc. Therefore, likely to seek out more avant-garde, more
adventurous (ignore lesser details). Guided by others if greater
authority but more likely to prefer own path (own way best) irrespective
of outcome. Will ignore if does not agree, independent of information
worth. Emotional values reflect positive confident attitude (more
definitive), unlikely to experience fear and hence values skewed.
Tough-minded (unsentimental, self-reliant, no-nonsense) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
reflects favouritism towards facts, less emotional influence approach
(values skewed slightly towards cold). Therefore, more task orientated.
Likely to ignore or dismiss facts, methods etc. if considered
superfluous, illogical, excessively emotional or under time constraint.
Likely to be guided by others if considered logical, trustworthy etc.
Processing of material fluid and creative. Externally guided
associations likely to be even more profitable, e.g. brain storming. May
be a disadvantage in that all information considered useful and
therefore difficult to assign relevancy and also lacking a realistic
end of continuum - Tender-minded (sensitive, sentimental,
intuitive) – possible basic weaknesses: selection of material,
processing and recall guided by facts and value system – facts and
comparison of emotions, e.g. empathy, intuition play important roles.
More emotional extremes registered. Will search out objects/peoples
giving ´happy` feeling in preference to fear (survival and dominance of
the dopamine system). Therefore, more for the familiar, e.g. materials,
methods etc. since unfamiliar likely to cause stress so avoided. Can be
guided by others but relies on own value system.
Trusting (unsuspecting, accepting, easy) – possible basic
weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall reflects easy
nature of individual and gullibility. People and objects, familiar or
unfamiliar show no difference. Unlikely to favour any certain
characteristics and likely to consider task. Probably prefers being
guided by others since can be gullible. Since looks on the bright
side/gives benefit of doubt, then emotional values possibly skewed
end of continuum - Suspicious (sceptical, distrustful) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
reflects individuals desire to use own knowledge base, own experiences,
own methods. Probably feels safest with familiar since unfamiliar likely
to evoke negative fear emotions. Distrustful when guided by others.
Emotional values skewed to negative since fear or distrust attached to
Practical (grounded, solution orientated) – possible basic
weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall reflects goal
orientated, based on facts and experience or interesting approach with
object or people, familiar and unfamiliar. More likely to be
informational rather than emotional, hence emotional state recorded as
secondary to facts. Finer details may be ignored at first until basic
features learnt or used first. New material, unfamiliar methods ignored if considered
irrelevant (i.e. complex level of detail) or if against logic of
previously stored material and previously used methods.
end of continuum - Imaginative (abstract, absent minded, absorbed
in ideas) – possible basic weaknesses: selection of material,
processing and recall likely to be spontaneous, goal-orientated, but
both creative. Ignored if less avant-garde, therefore lesser details
used or favourite methods used in favour of more staid, practical
material or methods which could achieve task quicker or more
effectively. Can be guided
by others, but demands that creative, empathic. Emotional state and
values play a role in which material is selected. More creative,
therefore more emotional. May have difficulties if individual
concentrates on deliberately being unconventional.
Forthright (naive, unpretentious) – possible basic weaknesses:
selection of material, processing and recall factual, straight, staid.
Will ignore more avant-garde or emotional material, methods etc. unless
necessary. Can be guided by others, but remains focused on facts (likely
to look at shape and movement first). Probably normal emotional status
end of continuum - Shrewd (discreet, worldly, diplomatic) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
factual. Objects and people, familiar and unfamiliar show no difference.
Cunning therefore begins with shape and movement first, but also likely
to give importance to finer points, which could give diversity or upper
hand at later date. Can be
guided by others especially if held in high regard. Will accept any
material as important. Likely to be on ´cold side` and therefore,
emotional values skewed.
Placid (unworried, complacent, free from guilt) – possible
basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall favours
safe, familiar since requires unworried existence. Can include more
avant-garde since not really worried about validity. Can be guided by
others. Emotional values skewed towards happy side since unworried.
(insecure, self-blaming) – possible basic weaknesses: selection of
material, processing and methods favour familiar, safe since requires
material, methods not to be contradicted by others. Unlikely to include
avant-garde material. Guided by others, but requires correctness or same
as others since does not want conflict and if there is conflict, blames
one-self. Emotional values skewed towards fear/panic since worried about
whether correct, whether conflict etc.
Conservative (attached to familiar, traditional) – possible
basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall reflects
safe staid approach. Prefers familiar to unfamiliar, so capable of
adding to knowledge base for example, but material and any new methods
must be logical and valid. Less likely to use avant-garde or frivolous
material, processing, methods etc. Guided by others if considered
worthy. Emotional information leans towards ´cold`, hence skewed
end of continuum - Experimenting (open to change, liberal,
critical) – possible basic weaknesses: selection of material,
processing and methods reflects experimenting nature, but if situation
demands then task takes priority. Unfamiliar and familiar accepted and
characteristics shape and movement, but also more avant-garde features,
methods and processing. Can be creative. Guided by others whether worthy
or not. Emotional values more expressive and skewed towards extremes
preferably positive. Problem that staid/conventional likely to be
ignored in favour of more colourful/unconventional.
Group-dependent (a joiner and follower) – possible basic
weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall reflects desire
of individual to be one of a group, therefore will consider others and
look for approval from others in every stage of brain memory mechanism.
Likely greater people orientation, desire for familiar or unfamiliar
(strength through group) dominating selection of material, processing
and methods. Information, methods ignored or dismissed if group deems it
or if considers against stored information. Emotional information more
dependent on group. Likely to be more extremes. Shows empathy to others.
end of continuum - Self-sufficient (solitary, resourceful) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
guided by own experience, favourite methods and own knowledge base. Uses
familiar and unfamiliar (has self-confidence to deal with unknown).
Capable of adding to knowledge. Probably well-defined views. Information
ignored if regarded as illogical, against previous ideas unless good
argument for replacement, or if given by others not respected by
individual. Selection etc. can be guided by others, but they require
respect and individual normally prefers own judgement. Normal emotional
values of own making. Problem lies with limitation of features, methods
and processing through dominance of own self, e.g. cannot take advantage
of others experiences, views etc.
Casual (tolerates disorder, relaxed) – possible basic
weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall reflects the
haphazard, relaxed, laissez-faire approach of individual. Features,
methods, and/or processing not necessarily the best, the most obvious or
even correct, and can be done on a whim. Can choose familiar or
unfamiliar since same devil-may-care attitude to both. Therefore
information, methods may be incorrect, patchy, outdated etc. on negative
side, but creative and avant-garde on positive. Emotional information
inconsistent. Likely to have strong views on some things and weak views
on others with a priority not shared by others.
end of continuum - Controlled (perfectionist, disciplined) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall
logical, correct, best. May be carefully selected and definitive.
Selection of material by others unlikely to take priority over that
chosen by individual himself and if occurs must be of higher authority.
Emotional information possibly secondary to facts. Definitive ideas
therefore skewed to extremes.
Relaxed (low drive, placid, patient) – possible basic
weaknesses: selection of material, processing and recall favours safe
and familiar since requires unworried existence, happiness. Can include
more avant-garde since not really worried about validity. Can be
creative. Guided by others whether correct or not since unworried about
validity. Emotional values skewed towards happy side since unworried.
end of continuum - Tense (impatient, driven, frustrated) –
possible basic weaknesses: selection of material, methods and recall
reflects over-anxious nature of individual and each stage likely to be
time restricted. Probably feels safest with selection of familiar since
unfamiliar likely to evoke negative fear emotions. Probably definitive
ideas and opinions favoured since holds own counsel. Distrustful when
guided by others so unlikely to accept it, hence unlikely to learn
anything new except under own volition. Emotional values skewed to
negative since fear or distrust attached to information. Time constraint
so likely to panic more.
From the possible weaknesses, four
specific areas are suggested to combat the deficiencies in the brain
memory mechanism and hence, bring about an increase in performance.
To increase creativity
through the introduction of the
To increase self-confidence
relating to people.
To increase trust in facts rather than people (including
To re-balance emotional worth.
Each personality trait has been
assessed as to which methods are likely to be the most
applicable and the results given in Table 7.
Table 7 – Suggestions to improve
performance for personality traits
Using Table 7, the reader can
identify which methods are the most applicable to likely bring about an
improvement in learning. The strongest five traits identified in Table 5
should be written in Table 8 and using Table 7, those methods
recommended to combat the areas of weakness can be filled in.
Table 8 – Identification of
stage 3 – improvement methods –
The methods are detailed below, but a few
general points about improving learning and recall need to be
remembered in addition. These are:
small steps. Do not try to do everything or change everything at once.
It is better to apply the methods and practice in small steps and give
yourself a ´reward` (could be just a mental ´pat on the back`) when
that step has been successfully achieved.
a little stress is OK. We need a little stress to change things or shake
ourselves up and we experience it naturally when we are trying something
new or something we are unsure of. This kind of stress is positive, but
when it is so bad that we are positively fearful (experiencing symptoms
such as sleeping badly, breathing differently, headaches, anxiety) then
change the approach and accept without reproach that this method is not
what you have. Use inner speech, talking aloud, singing, flash cards etc.
and whatever else you need to make your learning as effective as
possible. We all have our favourite methods, sometimes (if we are lucky)
to have been discovered when we were at school and so don`t be afraid to
use these methods whatever your age.
that you are not perfect. No one is perfect. We all forget things, have limits
to our knowledge, have difficulty in learning certain types of
information and so on. The difference is that situations and limits are
flexible and we can improve. However, that does not necessarily mean we
will end up with brain memories comparable to computers or our mobile
phones. We have to accept that we are not perfect.
Let us now look in more detail at
the four groups of methods given to overcome the suggested weaknesses in
the brain memory mechanism brought about by personality traits.
Stage 3- improvement methods -
through introduction of the avant-garde
In general, this type of method to improve the brain memory
mechanism is suggested for individuals who can be divided into two
Those, where there is a need to achieve success or the individual
is afraid to try anything new, therefore he sticks to staid, safe, less
controversial material. With some this is due to external influences,
e.g. individuals are afraid of others, afraid to be wrong, incur their
wrath if not dutiful etc. This group includes those demonstrating the
personality traits, reserved, less intelligent, humble, sober,
conscientious, shy, suspicious, apprehensive, conservative,
group-dependent, and tense.
Those, who have confidence, but rely on favourites for success
and therefore need the more unusual to spice things up a bit and be less
logical, less serious, less sensible and more creative and adventurous.
This group includes those demonstrating the personality traits, more
intelligent, more emotionally stable, tough minded, practical,
forthright, shrewd, self-sufficient, and controlled.
Before any method is employed the individual must be
convinced the method is going to work. The individual can have a
mantra, or a picture of someone he respects, or the promise of a reward
etc., but the mind must be open to new ways of working and also believe
in its success for the method to work. This does not mean, however, that
learning can only be carried out in a particular place with a particular
pen, favourite drink etc. – these circumstances only occur in stable
learning situations for children for instance or in laboratories. The
rest of us must learn to learn and use memory skills everywhere and in
Another requirement that needs to be fulfilled before the
individual begins is to define why he is doing it. He may be
training to increase his effectiveness at learning and recall for a
specific task, e.g. object recognition or it may be out of interest etc.
The reason for this is simply that there is too much information out
there and hence, restricting the learning to relevant material for the
task or topics of interest will make the process more effective and will
Once the goal is recognised, it is advantageous then to create
an overview of what is known about the topic before the
learning/recall takes place. This may not be in full detail and in fact
a mind map and known topics/fields is all that is necessary.
Construction of the topics/fields can be dependent on the subject and
level of knowledge, e.g. general topics could be those gained from a
crossword dictionary; more specialised from a technical book; others
from the table of contents of encyclopaedias such as Wikipedia etc.
For the introduction of creativity to those known topics, then
the following methods could be used. Table 9 gives methods
influencing input, either in the input stage or input of material
for recall. It should be noted, however, that there is a huge
number of different sources of material, e.g. radio, books, television,
Internet sites, mobile text pages etc. and the methods suggested do not
determine validity, they just say they can be used as sources. Hence,
the individual must use his own judgement to select and use information
available from any source.
Table 9 – Methods to introduce
creativity into material and learning methods – input stage
Table 9 described methods of how the individual can increase
input and stimulate creativity in that input himself, but not all
incoming information occurs under the volition of the learner, sometimes
the selection of material is guided by others. The problem with
this type of 3rd party intervention is knowing who to trust,
a problem becoming even more apparent with use of the Internet and other
non-personal communication methods. One way to reduce the risk is to
verify the material either by using multiple 3rd party
sources, or by confirming it with an authoritative individual. Methods
for improving this type of selection are:
Brain storming, whether real or virtual (Internet forums, blogs,
Facebook, Twitter etc.)
Use unusual ´characters` as guides or information sources.
Read and implement methods from ´How to`, self-help type books/DVDs. A
method suitable more for adults since although possible for children,
the language level may be too complicated or the quantity of pages to
get over one simple message too great etc.).
Creativity can also be introduced in the storage stage.
Processing of new material and old material prior to storage (includes
categorisation, associations, generic version construction etc.) leads
to an increase in the knowledge base. This is advantageous
because for example, object recognition may occur more easily since a
lesser detail can spark recognition through the increased number of
memory associations; or task/problem solving has more chance of success
since points of access, option construction etc. are more detailed or
more relevant since there is more stored material at hand with which to
make judgements. Methods to introduce creativity at this stage
include: using mind mapping to aid associations, categorisations etc.;
constructing hierarchies, e.g. name three birds as top of the hierarchy
and describe their habitat, what they eat, migration patterns,
associated myths etc.; and thirdly, use lateral thinking, such as
associations through letters, e.g link to everything beginning with an
Methods to increase the avant-garde in the recall stage of
the brain memory mechanism involve looking at more obscure details of
the stimuli not normally considered as a first stimulation option, or by
using methods not normally employed. Some methods are given in Table 10.
Table 10 – Methods to introduce
creativity into recall methods
Stage 3 – improvement methods -
self-confidence relating to people
In general, this type of improvement method is suggested in those
cases where information and methods obtained from other people or about
people would improve the effectiveness of the individual`s learning and
recall. It is suggested for individuals demonstrating many different
personality traits and gives an indication as to why people rely more on
facts than people/people-orientated material. The personality traits
that could benefit from this type of method are:
Shy, reserved – likely to use facts rather than
people/people-orientated material or methods for fear of failure in
Humble – likely to follow others leads. Needs to become more
confident in own ability and judgement.
Conscientious – needs it to become more confident and hence
question others opinions, rules etc.
Shy – likely to follow others or be dominated by others, hence
brain memories and mechanisms led by others.
Practical – dominance of facts, need to be more open and accept
advice from other people.
Apprehensive – dominance of fear, insecurity, fear of
upsetting or annoying others.
Group dependent – conformity to group and therefore needs to
increase self-confidence to establish own identity.
Self-sufficient – reliance on self, needs to increase
self-confidence so can rely on others.
Tense – increase self-confidence with people so that time
stress reduced, less dependent on self and more on individuals.
The methods needed to increase the use of people and
people-orientated material and methods have to lead to an increase in
the effectiveness of learning and recall for that person. An individual
will not change his methods if the results are less than what he has
already. Therefore, he has to be shown that the ability to use this
type of material and methods will be advantageous in comparison to
his more usual factually based ones. Again, before any improvement
method is instigated the individual must have confidence in its success.
Another aspect relating to this type of improvement method is
that the individual has to learn to deal with the introduction of
unknown, uncontrolled, unpredictable ´factors` that could influence
all stages of his brain memory mechanism. I suggest that a method to
combat this uncertainty can be achieved by the definition of the worst-case
scenario for the individual in relation to other people. Every one
has a situation that he fears the most, e.g. being laughed out of the
room, being ridiculed on Facebook, etc. and one way to get over it is to
learn to cope when or if it occurs and in that way, any lesser problem
can be dealt with. In
relation to this case where the introduction of other people can lead to
incorrect information being stored and recalled or opinions used for
decision-making that are nonsensical for example, the individual can
overcome the problems by for example using phrases or actions that are
suitable in all situations. The style of these phrases and actions are
dependent slightly on the individual – some preferring the funny
retort, others the apologetic approach for example – but the
determination of how one will deal with the situation before it occurs,
allows the person the freedom to make a mistake without complete loss of
confidence in using the more unusual method (a form of ´skin-toughening`).
The resulting effect of increasing confidence with people can change
what material is selected and how it is processed
(e.g. construction of options in problem-solving can be both
people and factually based).
Examples of methods that are likely to increase the confidence in
people and people-orientated material are given in Table 11.
Table 11 – Methods to increase
self-confidence in people and people-orientated information and material
Stage 3- improvement methods -
increasing trust in facts
rather than people (including self)
This is actually the opposite to the above improvement method
since what is required is an increase in the trust of facts rather
than relying on other people. Individuals who rely on others are
likely to ignore facts in preference to other peoples` opinions, or
follow their lead rather than thinking for themselves. This results in
essentially, a ´dumbing-down` effect on an individual`s use of
information and methods, as well as enforcing skewed emotional values
since opinions recounted may be more than just the individuals own.
Individuals who may benefit from methods that can lead to an
increase in trust of facts rather than other peoples` opinions,
information and methods are:
Outgoing - rely on others for the path taken, takes others lead,
Shy - rely on others for the path taken, they do not want to be
Tender-minded – rely on facts and emotions. Likely to follow
others since not wanting to upset anyone.
Trusting – likely to follow lead from others since think they
Suspicious – likely not to trust others so need to increase
Apprehensive – need to overcome insecurity, self-blaming
and build confidence in own abilities.
Group dependent – need to overcome reliance on the group.
Self-sufficient – need to increase facts relating to people and
increase trust in others.
An over-confidence in one`s own ability is equally bad,
since that can lead to failure to take advice, inability to be wrong,
incapability to use all available information etc. This characteristic
is likely to be seen in those with personality factors such as:
Assertive - stops taking advice from others, from using lesser
details, for example since fears they will lose their dominance.
Expedient - disregards rules and is non-conforming because the
self is more important than others, hence demonstrates over-confidence.
Needs to re-establish importance of facts etc.
Venturesome - thick-skinned, needs to look at facts from logical
point of view, for example.
Tense - unlikely to accept help from others through suspicion,
time constraints etc, hence places excessive trust in own ability.
Even those preferring facts may be included in this category
since for some the use of haphazard, illogical facts may not aid
the efficacy of the brain memory mechanism. This includes individuals
with personality traits such as:
Imaginative – too much use of ´haphazard facts`, may need to
rein in use of facts, otherwise always looking for the avant-garde and
not for the relevancy.
Placid – need to readdress unworried approach to facts.
Experimenting – need to even out approach to methods and
information. Look for relevancy.
Casual – need to even out disorder, and relaxed attitude.
Relaxed – need to even out laissez-faire attitude.
improvement methods given for this type of weakness are likely to
increase the ability to work through facts and not be distracted by
others. Some examples are given in Table 12.
Table 12 – Methods to increase
trust in facts rather than other people
Stage 3 – improvement methods -
Re-balancing emotional worth means the re-setting of emotional
values for stored information and it comes directly from adjusting
the dominance of the emotional system during events and indirectly from
increasing trust in facts rather than people. Methods that can lead to
this re-setting are intended for those individuals that demonstrate
the following traits:
Less intelligent – likely to have definitive, extreme views,
interests only, for example.
Affected by feelings – emotional worth and values dominate all
Assertive – needs to get dispense with definitive views because
stops creativity, acceptance of new material etc.
Happy-go-lucky – needs to dispense with demand for always ´happy`
Expedient – needs to have the positive feelings of
Conscientious – needs it to establish own ´rules` so less
Shy – need to re-establish according to own views and not
Tough minded – likely to be unfeeling or ´cold`, since
unsentimental, therefore need to consider events from an emotional point
Tender minded – needs to readdress since normally considers
emotions and facts.
Imaginative – needs to readdress since has a
self-requirement to be creative which can distort values.
Shrewd - likely to be unfeeling/´cold`, since unsentimental and
therefore, needs to consider from an emotional point of view.
Placid – needs to readdress unworried attitude to facts.
Apprehensive – needs to dispense with fear since insecure and
adopt a more emotional balance to facts etc.
Conservative - likely to be unfeeling/´cold`, since
unsentimental, therefore needs to consider from an emotional point of
Experimenting – needs to even out excessive attitude to be
Group dependent – needs to even out the views of the group.
Casual – needs to even out disorder and hence, extremes or
Relaxed – needs to dispense with constant feeling of ´happiness`.
Tense – needs to dispense with fear/panic/stress.
The methods suggested here are likely to
be successful for the re-balancing of emotional worth, especially the
reduction of the overly-negative, which induces high levels of stress
and fear. Some methods are:
Take a deep breath. Repeat a saying, look at a picture, count to
ten, meditate and think whether the event is really worth the worry you
are placing on it. Ask yourself, in a month`s time, will it still be
Accept that perfectionism does not exist. Need not be the best,
biggest etc. Removes the panic that the best is not being achieved.
Make a decision and act – rehashing, thrashing out thought
processes and decisions can be destructive. Make a decision based on
what you know, what you think will happen, and how you will feel
afterwards or how you would feel if it happened to you.
Do something nice, but say nothing, and expect no reward or
acknowledgement from others. A simple thing like opening doors can have
a huge effect, especially if you do not expect the act to be
Use language to change emotional values, e.g. think something is
not scary then is not scary, think ´calm` then excessive delight will
Live in the present and do not keep reminding yourself of
failures, mistakes of the past, etc. and other things you cannot change.
Think of positive events in life at the time.
Accept that life is not fair and therefore whatever you do is
likely not to be as successful as you or others would want.
Enjoy the simple things of life and do not crave the impossible.
Challenges are good, but there is a limit. Put events in perspective.
Learn to let go, and not try to make everything right. Not
everything can be perfect.
Reduce the drama attached to a situation by putting it into
perspective. With a one-sentence summary, then worries can change.
Take control; take the blame; take responsibility and be
confident that you have made the right decision at that time.
Increase your ability to laugh at yourself or laugh silently at
others, but not in a mean way.
Set priorities, set goals so that all energy is directed where
you want or need it.
METHODS: THE BACKGROUND
The previous section has described how we can
optimise our learning by, for example changing the way we approach the
material or by improving the various skills required for successful
execution of the learning mechanism, e.g. increasing awareness. These
general improvements lead us onto two specific methods, described
in the following sections, by which learning can occur. The two specific
methods are based on the need for recall of that learnt material from a
The first method suggested, described in the section
entitled Short-term memory formation, is for those situations
where the learnt material is either immediately recalled (less than one
minute between retention and recall) and then forgotten, e.g. typing in
a telephone number having read it from a telephone book, or where the
learnt material is recalled within a short amount of time (probably less
than five minutes) and then forgotten, e.g. remembering to take out the
rubbish. The recalled material may be required just as it is learnt,
e.g. recalling a sequence of steps for tying shoelaces, or it may need
processing as part of a series of steps, e.g. mental arithmetic for a
The other method is for material, which has to be
learnt and then recalled anytime after. This material should not be
forgotten and hence forms what is called long-term memory, e.g.
school learning. Again, the material can be recalled as it is learnt,
e.g. procedures for working a machine, or it can be processed and used
for something else, e.g. information required to answer a question. This
method is described in the section entitled Long-term Memory
Formation: the First Stages and then either the section for the
further stages using a computer (Long-term Memory Formation: Further
Stages Using the Computer) or using pen and paper (Long-term
Memory Formation: Further Stages Using Pen and Paper).
Both long-term and short-term memory methods are
suggested bearing in mind the preference of the reader here that language
is the primary tool in the learning and recall processes. To
accommodate this preference, the learning material is converted to a
language form appropriate to the individual and then this form is learnt
and recalled either immediately (short-term memory formation) or at a
later date (long-term memory formation). The former requires probably
only oral participation (whether aloud or via inner speech), although
writing notes is also feasible. However, the latter, long-term memory
formation, requires often some form of written conversion to maintain
the information over a longer period of time. Both methods are based on
the brain memory mechanism described in the companion book and site, ´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`.
Short-term memory formation is required for those situations
where the learnt material is recalled immediately or within five minutes
of learning and then is forgotten. There are many examples where this
type of memory formation is required, e.g. typing in telephone numbers,
following instructions, and in gaming reacting to specific stimuli. The
words ´short-term` do not imply time-consuming methods, such as the
construction of the mind map, instead this type of memory formation
requires a quick and accurate way of taking stimuli in, maintaining them
(or actively processing them with other information if necessary) and
then accurately recalling them. Successful learning is measured by
From a biochemical point of view, the long-term stores (the sNCA)
are not formed since recall occurs before the permanent cellular changes
can be made. Recall occurs instead from the short-term memory stores
(the iNCA), which still need sustained activation to shift the firing
cells from the temporary sensory stores to these more longer-lasting
ones. As soon as recall occurs, then unless firing is sustained by
repetition, it dies out and the information is lost.
The general plan of action for short-term memory formation
and recall involves a number of steps that can be consciously carried
out or subconsciously, if material and practice allow. These steps are:
the learning stimuli – This stage requires as described earlier for
informational input, the sensory pathways, as well as supplementary
systems for attention and emotions. The key to success at this stage is
to keep the learning material in small units (5-9 items as dictated by
the proposed size of brain memory short-term memory stores, Miller 1956,
Simon 1974), and therefore, it may be necessary for the learner to
deliberately divide up the available material into suitably sized ´units`
before learning. Sensory stimuli may be or may not be language-based or
to own language – The available material may not be in the optimum form
for people who prefer to use language to learn. Therefore, some form of
conversion may be needed. If the primary stimuli are visual or auditory
and non-language based, then an explanation, or description in the
learner`s own words should be made. This language-based information is
then added as extra material to the event in the brain firing patterns.
If the primary stimuli are already language-based, then it may be
necessary to convert it into the learner`s own language. This is because
in some cases the language used in the original stimuli is more
complicated or has repetitions, irrelevant references etc. In this way,
small units of words (5-9 words maximum) can be created. At this stage,
the incoming information can also be processed if necessary. This can
include addition of extra material, association with previously stored
material, re-assessment of feature priority and so on.
a memory form – Quick input and quick recall means that time-consuming
memory methods are not applicable in this case. Therefore, constructing
a mind map for example is not suitable since it is takes too much time
and also probably the quantity of information is too small for it to be
advantageous. Alternative methods have to be available and a selection
of different memory forms is given in the section below. The basic
principle is that the small language units formed in Step 2 have to be
arranged in some form, which allows the individual to easily learn them
and be able to maintain them for a short amount of time. Form may change
dependent on the situation or material for example, and people may have
their favourite methods, but success comes from practice and
applicability to task. We assume no written notes can be made at this
time, but if it is at all possible, then this type of ´memory jogger`
can be useful, especially if there is a high risk of distraction between
learning and recall.
the memory form – Memory formation requires that the event must be
rehearsed to be retained. The sensory pathways continue firing long
enough for the sustained activation condition so that the iNCA are
formed. The number of times the stimulus is rehearsed is entirely
individual and is related to the material itself, the conditions under
which learning occurs and the delay in time between learning and recall.
Rehearsal can be using loud or inner speech dependent on circumstance
and individual preference.
and reward – Within a short period of time, the learnt or retained
material is recalled. Successful recall is probably reward enough, but
it should be acknowledged, whether by the individual himself or by
others. This is important because it allows the learning methods to be
consciously assessed and also provides encouragement for any future
The positive feedback described in Step 5 broaches on the subject
of emotional state during this short-term memory formation
process. As described in the companion book, ´Brain Memory: Outside
the Box` and summarised in the companion website, the input, storage
and recall of information is accompanied by an emotional component and
therefore, the emotional system plays an important role in the brain
memory mechanism. Positive or negative emotions have affects on the
quality and quantity of incoming information as mirrored by the
attentional system. Therefore, for optimum short-term memory formation
to occur, it is suggested that the learner tries to remain as calm as
possible during the process. Any shift to fear will result in a change
in quality and quantity of the incoming information and will, therefore,
skew the learning process and the material learnt. Sometimes, it is not
possible to remain calm when the pressure is on to quickly learn
something, but a few calming techniques, such as counting slowly
to ten, deep breathing, focusing on something pleasurable may offset the
negative effects of the fear state and keep the brain memory process at
its optimum level.
The memory form chosen in Step 3 and rehearsed in Step 4 is
dependent on the material and the individual, but in most situations,
the majority of people use the simple method of just repeating the
converted words time and time again, either until they are needed or
until learnt. The introduction of other forms therefore, can lead to
improvements in memory performance or at least provide a little
stimulation. Some of these alternative memory forms used for
short-term memory formation are:
– the singing of the short language phrase conceived in Step 2 can
stimulate its learning and aid recall. Everyone has their own favourite
songs or pieces of music, even riffs, e.g. the beginning of the Phantom
of the Opera, Star Wars and using the converted material instead of the
proper words will give a rhythm to it, that can aid learning.
Essentially this is sequence learning and so only the order and content
are important and not being in tune or faithfulness to the original
speeches – imagining that the short language phrase is being spoken
by favourite characters, e.g. Darth Vader, relatives or friends can
provide an extra dimension to the material, which makes it easier to
remember. Association of the language units to corresponding figures
provides a ´peg`, which can aid recall, i.e. remember the figure,
remember the words.
– adding theatrical,
dramatic gestures, or exaggerated, absurd or argumentative actions or
words will place the material firmly in the brain memory stores. The
more extreme, the better and easier something is learnt. This can be
done easily since the converted form is in words and even the addition
of an accent will have some effect.
to other material – essentially this is based on the peg system recommended
by many for learning. Unfortunately not everybody can link their desired
word phrase to a visual ´peg` (e.g. the bun, the chair) and imagine the
result and so for people who prefer language this linking has to be done
with words. Therefore, the learner should associate his language phrase
with key words so that a language-based description is possible. For
example, if one has to remember dentist and football, imagining visually
a football-playing dentist is probably difficult, but saying that the
footy-mad dentist scored twenty goals or assaulted the referee (involves
the ´acting up` aspect described in method 3) makes the association
easier to learn.
humour – laughing is beneficial to learning and therefore, adding
humour to the language-based material will aid memory. Humour is
individual and therefore, word-play or slapstick additions to the
material will benefit as long as they bring a smile to the learner`s
rhymes and short word phrases – conversion of the language
unit formed in Step 2 above into something that rhymes or can be part of
a phrase improves retention, e.g. the classic ´Richard of York…` for
remembering the colours of the rainbow. This involves a good use of the
language, but again simple, but absurd is likely to be just as effective
as high-brow genius.
abbreviations and acronyms – the value of this method is that far more than
5-9 single pieces of information in a single unit can be learnt. The
abbreviation or acronym should be this size, but for every letter,
another 5-9 pieces of information can be attached, using any of the
memory forms described. Therefore, this method is suitable for those
occasions when a larger amount of information is required.
´flow` methods - flow is
essentially what the method of loci is (Roman House, medieval theatre).
By flowing from one point to another, information is attached to each
point. Recall is made when each point is then indicated. Again, the form
of this information at any point can be constructed from any of the
methods described above, hence a large quantity of information can be
learnt short-term. Flow means that the points must be logically joined
as demonstrated by the well-known Roman house method (the learner
imagines going into each room of a house and attaches the material to
each room). Other possible ´flow` scenarios are:
the clock (points are the numbers 1 to 12, with flow going
fingers (points are the fingers and thumbs, with flow going
from thumb to little finger on one hand and then the other – a common
numbers (points are individual numbers, with flow following
left to right (points are visual left and visual right –
two points only)
seasons (points are the seasons and flow goes from spring to
playing cards (points go from Ace of Hearts to King of
Hearts, Ace of Spades to …and so on)
Russian dolls (points are the dolls and flow goes from large
to small, with each doll removal exposing new information).
The key to successful short-term memory formation is a good
conversion of the learning material and a suitable choice of memory
form. The implication that the process has to be quick means that both
steps have to be carried out accurately and confidently and therefore,
any chance to employ them should be taken - the more one practices the
different options available, the better the level of success. Since
language plays an important part, then any improvements in language
ability can have wide-ranging effects.
In the above section, methods were suggested for learning situations where the learnt material is quickly recalled and forgotten. Long-term learning is however for those situations where the material is required to be remembered over a longer period of time and since this study is for those of us who prefer to learn with language then the method suggested for doing this relies on language as its primary source of material. Circumstances where long-term learning in this form is required are numerous, e.g. for school (history texts for example), for the job (instruction manuals), for social reasons (autobiographical memories of family members) and success of the learning process is again measured by the success of the recall.
From a biochemical perspective, learning conditions have to be such that the permanent memory stores, the sNCA are formed. The mechanism followed from input to the formation of these stores is given in the companion book and website, ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`.
The overall plan of long-term learning requires a number of
stages and these are summarised here and described in more detail in
the following sections:
Stage 1 – setting up an
Establishment of Purpose – this step includes a declaration of why the
person needs to learn the material, the steps involved etc. It provides
essentially the boundaries by which the learning occurs and the material
and states the intention of the learner.
Stage 2 – material assessment –
in this step, the material is gathered together, read through and
assessed according to overall gist, specific words, order for example.
This step provides essentially the boundaries of the material.
Stage 3 – conversion of the
material. For long-term memory, this step means an adaptation of
material using either the computer or pen and paper. The general
principle remains the same for both, which is the conversion of the
material sources to a language form that is suitable for the individual
and capable of proceeding to the next stage.
Stage 4 – creation of a
presentation of the converted material either on the computer or on
paper. This stage uses as its basis the mind map concept (Buzan, 1974).
Stage 5– learning of the
material. This stage describes the repetition of the computer
presentation or mind map presentation on paper required to convert the
temporary memory stores to long-term memories.
Stage 6 – testing of the material
and revision schedule. Once learnt the learning process can be
re-enforced by the inclusion of a testing session. This stage also
describes a revision schedule required to maintain the long-term
For each stage, general notes relating to the approach to
learning apply and these are:
The method for long-term memory formation
described in this book and based on the mechanism summarised in the
companion website and book begins with the creation of an Establishment
of Purpose. This is important because it directly:
It also has indirect importance,
in that it increases concentration and positive feelings because the
learner can see the boundaries of the learning task.
An example of an Establishment of Purpose can be seen in Table 13
and these should be filled in for every learning task. Adaptations to
the form can be made if necessary, including personal touches. For
example, the stages of learning may be expanded or reduced depending on
the material or time available, or the revision dates altered to
coincide with the task.
Table 13 – Example of an
Establishment of Purpose form
The Establishment of Purpose is a record of a specific learning
task and therefore, it can form part of a learning ´journal`,
when collected together with others. This means that an individual can
have definitive ideas of his objectives, can plan learning and review
schedules and have a permanent record of what he has done and what he
has achieved. A record of this nature is invaluable when learning has to
be structured and over a long period of time, or with a large quantity
of un-related material.
There are two types of sources: sensory or
linguistic and in the case of the learner who prefers to learn with
language then the sensory stimuli have to be converted into a language
form as determined by the individual for efficient learning to occur.
Material assessment in terms of long-term memory means just this. Before
this conversion can be made, an assessment of the available material has
to be carried out. This means that all the material to be learnt is
gathered together and:
After this stage is completed, conversion of the material can
then take place and this is carried out either using a computer
described in the section titled, Long-term Memory Formation: Further
Stages Using the Computer or with pen and paper (Long-term Memory
Formation: Further Stages Using Pen and Paper.
the quick scan
are many sources of material, e.g. news broadcasts, journals, traffic
signs, reports and in whatever form it is originally, the learning
process begins with an assessment of it. This involves perusing and
Reading material through for learning should be carried out in two stages: a first quick read or scan; and a second more thorough reading, so that finer details are observed.
Consider an example of a text: ´A car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers. It runs on roads, can seat one to eight people and normally has four wheels. In 2007, the number of cars in the world topped 806 million, burning over 260 billion US gallons of petrol/gasoline and diesel fuel. Numbers are still rapidly rising with greatest increases seen in China and India. `
This text can be scanned quickly so that the reader can identify the main topic and knows what the minor interesting details are. This is followed by a more thorough read-through where every fact is registered. The example given above is short and so the quick scan and thorough reading steps are relatively simple, but for longer texts and more varied sources of material, the two reading stages have to be carefully controlled.
Quick reading for texts can be carried out by a number of different methods, three of which follow:
Look at four lines at a time and read through the lines, not
particularly identifying words or phrases, but by absorbing the meaning.
Read the first and last paragraphs thoroughly and then scan the
rest for important words (usually in bold, italics etc.). Most texts
introduce and summarise the contents in their first and last paragraphs
respectively. Hence, a quick read of either will ´prime` the reading of
the rest of the material.
Scan from top left to bottom right of pages of text. In a manner
similar to (1), no particular words or phrases are identified, with
instead the ´meaning` absorbed through the subconscious recognition of
(It should be remembered that inner speech has only a
speed of 200-400 words a minute, whereas scanning is much faster and
therefore if possible, vocalisation of any text should not be made. This
may need a bit of effort to re-educate reading practices, since we are
used to vocalising, but it is well worth the effort since large
increases in reading speeds can result.)
Not only is the general meaning and intention of
the material being ´absorbed` during the quick reading step, but also
the reader is taking in:
1) the format of the
material – sections, sub-sections, headings and subheadings (quick
scan of table of contents), summary at the beginning and/or end, the use
of tables, and figures, the use of bold and italics etc. This gives the
structure and order of the material, which will be consciously used
2) any familiar material –
during the quick scan, the reader should be subconsciously linking the
material to any knowledge he may already have. This is an advantage of
using priming before any reading, because in that way, the reader
already has likely associations in place. He also is aware of the
boundaries of his knowledge and is subconsciously seeking to expand it.
Material might also be in the form of pictures,
recordings, television broadcasts etc. Therefore, in these cases, the
original material should be scanned or flicked through quickly from
start to finish. It can then be placed in an approximate order,
even if this means placing the smallest item on the top and the biggest
on the bottom (shortest material first, longest material last).
Normally, the most important material would be on top/first. However,
the order is purely subjective, with some preferring the longer or more
complicated material first to ´get it out of the way` and others
preferring to place it last ´to ease oneself into it`.
Once a quick reading or scan is carried out, then a minute should
be taken to analyse roughly what has been read and seen/heard. In
this short amount of time, much can be assimilated and it prepares the
learner for the second read through where details are sought after.
thorough reading and
The second read through is more thorough. Words and
phrases should be read and ´savoured` with full understanding and
meanings and concepts appreciated and comprehended. The first
impressions and first information obtained from the quick read/scan are
deepened and added to. A critical assessment of the material is
carried out, not only for the information it contains, but also
according to other factors and these are discussed below.
Marking of the text or note-taking is necessary
to reduce the mass of stimuli or words to those facts that will form the
basis of the material learnt later. Facts are placed amidst a lot of ´buffering`
material included to make material more readable, watchable, or
enjoyable. To reduce distraction, the learner has to mark the original
material in some way so that his attention is centred on only the
information he requires. With text-based information, this is quite
easy, especially if the original material can be adapted in some way. Marking
key information can be carried out by highlighting, underlining,
marking in the margin, and footnotes with arrows for example. The
location of all the markings should be evident either by page number,
numbering the paragraphs or by any personal method thought to be
suitable for each case.
However, some material cannot be marked, e.g. a
podcast and therefore, in these cases language-based notes have
to be written so that the facts are ´removed` from the original
material to make learning easier. These notes can be worded exactly as
they occur in the original material or are written in a converted form
that is shorter, more succinct, or more exact. In this latter case,
notes should be short word phrases (6-8 words) including the key words,
which are normally nouns. Any language shortening devices can be used,
including the use of dashes, abbreviations, text language, and any
superfluous words should be removed. The key is to ask oneself, what do
I need to know from this material. The answers form the basis of the
Just like with the quick scan, this detailed reading step should
be ordered. Material can be read or seen according to personal
taste, but it should be broken down into units using a ruler or piece of
paper if possible. These units may be natural, e.g. a text paragraph, or
enforced. Each unit should then be read, either out aloud or using inner
speech and a critical assessment of content according to the following
section made for each in turn.
critical assessment of material
Scanning and reading through of the material
gives the learner an idea of its content. Key words and information are
marked or noted and this forms the basis of the material to be learnt.
Not all information is obvious and therefore, a critical assessment of
the available material should be made. Speech, whether inner or oral,
can help the process. This assessment includes:
In addition, the learner may need
to include answers to supplementary questions in order to get the
full worth of the material. These include:
The last point, establishing
one`s own emotional value for the material supplies a personal
element to the learning which may not be present, e.g. the material may
have to be learnt as in the case of school work. Sometimes material
reflects the emotional bias of the person or event supplying it, e.g. by
the use of emotional language, or excluding relevant information. An
assessment of the content will indicate such leanings and also give the
learner the opportunity to establish his own value for the information
he is about to learn. ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box` describes
the brain memory mechanism involved in not only inputting, storing and
recalling information, but also the corresponding emotional state. An
emotional tag giving the value/worth of that information is attached to
the characteristics of that information and this tag affects how the
information is dealt with on recall. Therefore, establishing emotional
value during the assessment process can dictate how much and in what
detail material is learnt.
Once the extent and content of the material is thoroughly
appreciated, then the learner can go onto the next step, the conversion
of the material.
These early stages takes the raw material in
whatever form it exists and assesses it. Since the reader here prefers
learning with language, then the original material may not be in a form
where learning is easy and therefore, a conversion stage is now required
to change the material into the readers own preferred language form.
This can be carried out using the computer or with pen and paper.
This section describes Stages 3 – 6 of the long-term learning
method using the computer as working medium. The computer has many advantages
for this particular usage, which include:
And in this case, only the more basic and readily available computer software is required. For example:
conversion to tables
This section describes the conversion of the raw, ´concentrated`
material achieved above into a form more effective for long-term
learning using the computer. It relies on the use of the marked
text/notes constructed from the available, original material. This
relates to not only facts, but also opinions, background, etc. Using
computer software suitable for handling text, such as Microsoft Word,
the 5-9 word notes (now known as entries) are submitted into tables,
created so that the layout and order of the material are represented, as
well as the information. These tables are required for the next step.
tables and headings
Text handling programmes, such as Microsoft Word,
allow tables to be created using text-based facts and in the case of
long-term memory, three types of table are required: the overview
table representing structure, order and layout at least of the whole
available material; the section structure table (a specialised
type of overview table) which represents the layout and information of
the individual topics that make up the material as a whole; and finally,
the informational table, representing extensions to the other two
tables because they include the detailed information.
The overview table is the first table to be constructed
after the material assessment stage (Stage 2) has been completed and it
is used to indicate the general structure of the whole material being
learnt. This is defined in the Establishment of Purpose form (Stage 1).
It is based on the mind map principle (Buzan, 1974) and consists of a
main heading representing the name of the topic in general and further
headings and subheadings representing the subsidiary grouping and order
of the material information. When there are many headings and
subheadings, these subsidiary groupings form their own separate tables
and these are called section structure tables. For example, in
material demonstrated by the text sample given above, a possible
overview table may be as given in Table 14 for the general material
structure and Table 15 for more detailed section structure.
Table 14 - Example of table for
general overview of material
Table 15 – Example of table
giving section structure (History of the motor car)
The headings are entered in a specific order in the table. In the
overview table (example Table 14), the main title of the material is
considered the main heading and this is written on the far left.
This corresponds to the main heading drawn in the centre of the mind
map. The title or main heading may not be so easily discernable when a
variety of material is being considered, but to help decide, one should
think of a library or Wikipedia and think of which entry this
information would be available under in these information sources. A
quick computer search can confirm whether the choice is correct.
next column, headings are entered which represent the topics relating
to this main subject. These may be in order or are random depending
on the material being learnt. Possible orders are: chronological,
developmental, numerical, hierarchical etc. This column is filled in as
the conversion process progresses or if there is clear division of
secondary subjects, it may be filled in approximately at the beginning
and adapted later as more material is converted. This situation may
occur if for example a book is the source of the material. In this case,
the table of contents provides the headings and subheadings which are
entered into this overview table. Further conversion of the book may
lead to further subheadings being added due to the important nature of
and final column, written on the far right, consists of sub-headings
relating to the sub-ordinate topics. This column may or may not
exist depending on the quantity of headings in the second column. The
reason for this is that this first table is an overview of the whole
material and therefore, should be clear and uncomplicated. Too many
secondary headings mean that it is better to omit the sub-ordinate
headings so that the amount of information in the overview table remains
manageable. This does not mean that this information is forgotten, since
it becomes the secondary column in the section structure tables for the
gives an example of a section structure table. This table is
constructed in exactly the same way as the overview one, with the main
heading being the topic subject (far-left column) and the secondary
heading being the sub-ordinate topic (middle column). The third column
(far-right) can then be either headings representing further division of
the topics or as in the example given, the actual information. Just like
the main overview table, this type of table can be constructed at the
beginning of the conversion process if sub-ordinate headings are
recognisable at this point, or may be constructed as the conversion
types of ´overview/structure/layout` tables have several advantages:
They give a concise, structure to the material, so that all
information ´fits` and relates to the topic and other material.
They are adaptable, i.e. the order of the material can be
changed as the conversion process continues, as well as additions and
deletions can be made to represent information, which may be deemed at a
later date to be relevant/irrelevant to the topic expressed.
They are easy to learn and review and hence, provide the
backbone of the learning process.
The other type
of table constructed in the conversion process is the informational
table, which is as its name suggests gives the detailed information
extracted from the material. An example is given in Table 16.
Table 16 – Example of informational table
These tables are constructed as the material is searched
through and converted and consist of the headings given in the overview
tables and short, concise versions of the ´marked` text relating to
these headings. They group together information relating to the same
topics and therefore, need not be constructed in the order of the
The informational tables and possibly the overview/structure
tables allow the information from the available material to be
added to the tables. It is normally entered in the far-right column,
because it is essentially the most specific information available and is
entered in the form of entries, which can be related directly to
the notes made in the original material. These are short notes,
preferably 5-9 words in a manner similar to that used in text messaging,
Google search entries, library entries for example. Shorthand, SMS text
messaging language (such as y for ´why`, 4 for ´for`), omission of
vowels, simple verbs, imperative language, use of abbreviations and
acronyms are all acceptable means of keeping the entries accurate and
If the material is already in a computer format, cutting and
pasting with a moderate amount of editing may aid the conversion process
for the informational entries. Therefore, if this is going to be carried
out then a copy of all original material should be made before
any conversion is carried out.
Once all tables are constructed, a quick review of material
versus table should be made to make sure all relevant material has been
included. This should be followed by a quick scan of the tables to see
if order and content are logical. Any corrections can be easily made –
an advantage of using computer-based methods.
summary of conversion process using tables
In Stage 2, the material assessment stage, the material is read
through in detail and important facts etc. are ´marked` or notes made.
In the conversion process, these relevant facts are searched for and
converted into headings and entries in tables using a computer software
programme capable of handling text, for example Microsoft Word. A
summary of the steps in this conversion process are:
Set up a computer file in the data-handling programme to
represent this set of material.
Construct an overview table as given in Table 14 by deciding on
the main subject and searching for main headings by scanning all
Construct section structure tables as given in Table 15 by
searching for headings in the scanned material that are subordinate to
the main topics. These can be easily identified from Tables of Contents,
Construct informational tables for each heading detailed in step
(3). Material is scanned for the ´marked` areas. Information should be
then entered concisely as short entries using any method possible, e.g.
removing complicated verbs, use of symbols, or abbreviations. If
applicable, information can be transferred directly from the
computer-based material using the ´cut and paste` operation, but
subsequent editing probably needs to be carried out (possibly far too
many unnecessary words in the original text which can be omitted or
replaced using abbreviations for example). Order and relevancy of
entries and headings in the tables are considered throughout the
Once all the material has been converted into tables, the tables
should be read through and any changes made. Logical order and
conciseness of entry are key aims of the process.
obvious that learning this way may not be a ´two-minute` wonder and the
problem with this type of learning method is that it requires time
and effort to make it succeed. In the conversion stage, time is
needed to scan the material and transfer it to the tables for example
and effort is needed to think about the headings and the entries and the
order and relevancy of the information. However, the advantage of this
type of method is that all the working of the material helps in the
learning process as indicated by the Level of Processing Theory
proposed in 1972 by Craik and Lockhart. It also helps to see the
information in ´raw` terms devoid of superfluous words and irrelevant
details and also see the logical order. Alterations at this stage are
easy to remedy and should be done, since thinking and processing at this
stage refines the material even further. Once in this format, the
learner can then go on to the next stage, which is the formation of
presentation-style learning material using it.
STAGE 4 - CREATION
OF PRESENTATION-STYLE LEARNING MATERIAL
section sees the converted text formatted into tables created in the
previous section being transformed into a presentation-style format,
which will aid the learning and revision process. The presentation style
format uses the mind map as basic principle (Buzan, 1974). In order to
carry this out, computer software capable of creating presentations is
required, such as Microsoft Power Point. Such a programme contains
functions that enhance learning by applying features of the brain memory
process, e.g. animation of slide objects applying brain memory
mechanisms of sustained activation for shared features, and font size
and colour taking advantage of priority of characteristics associated
with visual stimulus. There are three steps to the creation of this
presentation-style learning material and these are:
The transfer of the information from the text format to the
The establishment of order of the resulting slides.
The formatting of the slides.
It may be possible to circumvent
these stages by the use of specific mind map construction programmes, as
a form of mind map is the ultimate result. If this type of software is
available, then by all means it should be used to aid learning. However,
if not then the stages that follow provide a suitable alternative.
transfer of information
This stage begins the creation of the
presentation-style learning material by transferring text to the
appropriate computer programme. Unfortunately, it appears that it is not
always possible to transfer text tables directly from the data-handling
software to this type of programme and therefore, the text transfer
may have to be done in stages. It may have to be placed into the
slide notes (found at the bottom of the screen) at first rather than the
main part of the slide. However, everyone should try out their own
data-handling and presentation programmes and if information can be
directly placed from a text table to the main slide then it should be
Therefore, to begin the process, a new
file is created in the presentation programme and the first slide is
selected and formatted as a blank presentation. This will become the overview
slide giving the title and the main topics dealt with at this time.
The overview text table created above is converted back into text (for
earlier versions of Microsoft Word for example - Table icon on tool bar
– Format Table to Text) and the text transferred (copied and
pasted) into the slide notes of the first slide. The first slide is
named on the right hand side as ´Overview`.
The section structure tables are then
converted from the table format into text format (for earlier versions
of Microsoft Word for example - Table – Format Table to Text) and
transferred in the same way. Each table is transferred to separate blank
slides. Again, each slide is named with the main heading taken from the
The last stage of this process is the transfer
of the informational tables. These are transferred in the same way,
each to separate slides and even split between slides if there is a
large quantity of related material. Ideally, there should be a maximum
of 8 headings per slide, but this is dependent on complexity of the
information. Each slide is named according to its content.
establishment of order
Once the converted information has been transferred to the presentation slides, the order of the slides can be established. Order is normally one of four types: sequential, branched, ´mind map` style (Buzan, 1974), or random. The order is derived from the overview slides and is necessary because it gives the transition order of the slides and hence, establishes the pattern of learning and even speed of learning and revision.
Slide transition can be controlled in most
presentation producing software by mouse clicks, hyperlinks or action
buttons. Changing slides by mouse clicks is only applicable to
slides that are next to one another in a sequential order, but the other
two methods can be used for changing to slides in other positions and
hence, are useful for branching, mind map and spontaneous/random orders.
The insertion of hyperlinks requires two
steps. The first step involves setting the colour of the hyperlink (for
earlier versions of Microsoft Power Point for example - Format Slide
colour scheme goes to Accent and Hyperlink plus accent and followed
Hyperlink. Change to preferred colour and select ´Apply to all`). The
second stage involves the insertion stage at the point where required to
change slide (for earlier versions of Microsoft Power Point for example
- Select text. Press ´Insert Hyperlink`, then type in the File
Bookmark, then select the slide title, press OK and repeat).
The third method involves the insertion of
specialised features on the slides (the action buttons) which
when selected during the slide presentation show for the learning stage
will change the slide to the one indicated. These are inserted using the
´Insert Action Button` feature (for earlier versions of Microsoft Power
Point for example) and can be formatted to any style desired by changing
colour/size/pattern. The instruction ´Return to slide…` has to be
filled in and the action button can then function during the learning
It is possible to set the order during this stage
of the presentation formation, but it is more sensible to leave certain
transitions, e.g. the end of sections, and back to the Overview slide to
a point when no further slides are going to be added and the format is
nearly finalised. Since the order of the slides in this stage may not
represent the order of the slides during the learning phase, it is
important to get it right, because learning has to follow the natural
logic of the material as dictated by the earlier assessment stage.
formatting the slides
Formatting the slides in this case means two
things: establishing how the slide looks as a whole, and secondly
how learning can be enhanced by the introduction of animation of
the slide features.
The first is self-explanatory. The material,
which is at present sat in the slide notes section has to be transferred
to the main part of the slide and formatted into an acceptable layout.
In most cases, the layout follows the mind map style (Buzan, 1974),
which is deemed the most effective layout for learning. However, choice
of layout reflects the material itself, its order and individual tastes.
The only demand is that it is clear, uncluttered and follows the logic
of the material. All features defined for the mind map can be applied
here. Methods for short-term learning can also be used here so that
learning is made easier for larger quantities of information. For
example the installation of a flow method or humorous phrase.
The second aim of the formatting in this case is to introduce
animation. This goes back to the brain memory mechanism, which gives
priority to certain visual features, movement being one of them (´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`). By animating certain features of a slide,
learning can be enhanced by stimulating interest and by maintaining
attention for example as defined by the brain memory mechanism advocated
individual slide layout
The layout of individual slides depends on the function of
that slide and there are four functions:
The layout of each slide, with the
exception of this last type, the ´surprise` slide, is clearly visible
from the available information, which has already been transferred in
7.3.2 into the slide notes.
Formatting should begin with the first slide, the
title slide. For this slide, although various layouts are
probably available in the presentation software, a blank format is
probably the best format to choose since then the title can be placed
centrally. Before writing or text transfer begins, the background colour
and font colour can be selected and ideally the former should be light
and the latter dark, but this is personal choice and some may prefer
bright colours and others more subdued. Once chosen, a text box is
inserted in the middle of the main part of the slide, and the subject
title written in capitals in a big font within it. There are no hard and
fast rules for formatting, the only demand being here that the title
must be clear, with no doubt of the learning topic. This serves the
function of focusing the attention of the learner on the subject in
The next stage is to format the overview
slides and general structure slides. These slides are referred to
many times during the learning and revision stages, since they describe
the overall structure of the learning material. Computer software
programmes for the creation of presentations have normally many
templates for the layouts of slides, for example for sequential
placement, in columns, branched, hierarchical, and also blank where the
individual can design his own layout. It is likely that this latter
style is ideal for the overview slides and general structure slides
since the material is best displayed in a mind map pattern (Buzan,
1974), which is considered the best format for learning. Before the
material is inserted, again background colour and font colour need to be
decided and it is probably preferable to continue with the same colours
as the title slide, but this is purely a matter of choice on the part of
Formatting begins with the insertion of a text
box in the middle of the slide and the title (main subject) taken from
the slide notes is ´cut and pasted` in the text box or typed in. The
font may need to be adjusted (Arial 16pt for example), and the heading
should be in capitals. The headings are then placed around this text box
in a ´clock` style format, with the first heading placed at the 11
o`clock position (top-left position) and each text box added clockwise.
The number of text boxes depends on the number of headings dictated by
the previous stages (the assessment of the material and formation of the
tables). Each heading is then ´cut and pasted` from the slide notes
into each text box. Before transference, it may be preferable to re-size
the font, but this is dependent on the amount of material and number of
headings present. What can be said is that the font size of these
sub-ordinate text boxes should be bigger than the main title (learning
requires that attention is drawn away from the general and more to the
specific). To finish the formatting, lines using the formatting tool bar
are drawn from the title to each text box to show its relationship to
the main subject and can be drawn to each other. This main overview
slide dictates the order by which material is learnt and therefore, if
there is priority to the different topics then it is demonstrable from
this overview slide.
The second type of slide formatted of this type
is the section structure slides, which give an overview of the
content of each topic. The format of these slides, of which there can be
many throughout the learning material, is the same as for the overview
slides described above. The subject heading is placed centrally and the
sub-ordinate headings are written clockwise around it, starting at the
11 o`clock position. Lines are added to demonstrate the relationship
between the various headings and sub-headings.
The third type of formatting required is for the informational
slides and this is the most difficult because it involves a large
amount of information and therefore, it is difficult to maintain clarity
and order. An ideal size for learning requires only 8 pieces of
information per slide, so it may be necessary to split the topics many
times as the learner begins to place detailed information from the slide
notes to the main part. Methods used for short-term learning described
above may be applicable here in formatting the information into a form
to make learning larger quantities feasible. So long as the order is
maintained and relationships between the slides is clear, splitting is
not a problem and is better than having a slide crammed with too much
information that discourages learning just by looking at it.
Individual slide formatting of the informational
slides is dependent on the material that has been transferred into the
slide notes. Layout could be one available by the programme
itself or like the overview slides can be blank and designed by the
individual mind map style (Buzan, 1974). The type of layout is dependent
on the material and so there are no hard and fast rules. Background and
font colour is again dependent on individual tastes, with some learners
preferring to keep the same colours as the title and overview slides and
others preferring a multi-coloured approach.
The first job in formatting this type of slide is
to place the overall topic using headings and subheadings of the table
into the main part of the slide. A text box is inserted according to the
layout decided and the text (heading/subheading) transferred (´cut and
pasted`) from the notes into the centre of it. Sizing of the text box
may have to be carried out so that the information is clear and
complete. The informational details are then added to the main slide
systematically according to their placement in the table and slide
notes. Individual text boxes are inserted near to the heading in the
order agreed (my own personal preference is left to right, top to
bottom, clockwise), material is re-sized (likely to be the smallest size
font possible at this stage) and then transferred via the ´cut and
paste` facility into the text box. Once all the details have been placed
on the slide, re-sizing of the text within the boxes can be carried out.
The final act in the formatting is the drawing of lines so that
relationships and sub-ordinancy of the boxes are obvious. Formatting of
this type of slide follows personal tastes, but certain facilities on
offer from the software programmes can be used to vary the presentation
of the information, such as font size and colour, bold and italics
print, capitals and lower case print, symbols and shapes.
One additional feature added to this type of
slide is the ´meditation/concentration` symbol. This symbol can
be a picture of a candle, star, well-known figure, anything, which is
personal to the learner and brings enjoyment or a sense of
peace/relaxation to him. The aim of the symbol is that by looking at it,
it forces attention back to learning or can alternatively give a short
meditation-type break during the learning phase without the individual
having to leave his computer. It is advantageous for slides where there
is a large volume of material present or where there may be difficulty
in learning. The symbol of a small size is placed in the top right
corner of the informational slide, but need not be placed on every
The final type of slide added to the learning
material is the non-informational, ´surprise` slide. These are
blank slides or slides containing pictures/doodles/cartoons/jokes, which
are inserted between sections without reference. The purpose of these
slides are, just like the meditation symbols, to give the learner a
break from learning, stimulate interest and re-enforce attention. The
format depends on the individual and the facilities available, although
most computer programmes come with some ´Paint` option, and Internet
downloads of this nature are freely available.
Once all slides are formatted, then the links between
slides according to the order determined in the previous sections has to
be established. This is necessary so that the learning and revision
occurs in the order intended by the material and is the most efficient
and logical. Links are inserted using mouse clicks, hyperlinks and
action buttons as described above.
The brain memory mechanism advocated here indicates that the
visual system has preferences for certain features and these therefore,
have priority in the learning process. Movement was described as one of
these features and learning occurs because the shared features of events
between subsequent time frames fulfils the sustained activation
requirement needed to shift temporary stores into long-term memory.
Therefore, by adding movement to the slides, then learning efficiency
may be enhanced. This is carried out by using the animation features
offered by most computer programmes designed for creating presentations.
Headings and information on the individual slides are animated so that
attention is drawn to them and long-term learning can occur because of
the sustained firing in response to watching the features appear and
Custom animation on offer is related to different areas,
such as direction, sound and is extremely varied. Some examples are:
Many a delightful hour can be spent playing with the animation features available with a computer programme, and choice is entirely individual – what one person finds aids learning efficiency could annoy another. For the sake of simplicity, I have devised a simple animation routine, so that at least the reader may complete his presentation of the material and begin learning. Animation should be added to each slide excluding the title slide. The pattern of animation of each slide begins after the main heading has appeared in the centre and occurs with material appearing left to right, starting at the 11 o`clock position and moving clockwise or following the chronological order or order of importance of the headings present. The features should be animated in the following away:
Order of appearance dictated above, type and direction -
· Fly left
· Fly right
· Fly bottom
· Fly top
· Fly bottom left
· Fly top right
Animation sound: normally no sound, but explosions, drum rolls do however, introduce a refreshing sound if the material is intensive or long and therefore, can be used to add variety.
Order – normally automatic, but word for word appearance for longer texts, or ´as one` for shorter texts may add variety.
Post-animation – normally features should not dim or hide. This way the information remains in the visual field for longer.
The animation features suggested here are minimal compared to availability, but the suggestions given above provide a good example of the installation of movement in the formatting of the slides and gives the time required for learning. The trick is to not make it too complicated and not to take up much time doing it. It is easy to forget that learning the material is important, not the visual appearance of it. Once each slide is animated then the formatting is complete and the material is then ready to learn.
STAGE 5 - LEARNING
OF THE MATERIAL
memory mechanism requires for long-term memory permanent biological
changes to occur (´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`). The
requirement for this process is that firing of the neuronal pathways and
brain areas appropriate to the material stimulating them is sustained
for the time needed for these permanent changes to be initiated.
Sustained activation in conscious learning is achieved by repetition of
the material. Therefore, learning with the computer requires the
material to be presented to the learner in the form of a visual stimulus
and then repeated as many times as needed by the individual so
that long-term memories are formed, i.e. the learner learns. In this
section, the material appears as a computer presentation using software
for this purpose. Use of the computer satisfies conditions for the
drawing and maintaining of attention, the stimulation of the visual
sense with priority features such as colour and movement, the ease of
being able to sustain firing via multiple repetition and the use of
language as a favourite material medium. The previous section describes
the process by which the material goes from its original form to a
learning form as a computer presentation. In this section, discussion
lies with how the material is then learnt.
There is a series of steps to the learning process using the
computer-based presentation and they are:
Step (1) - Establish
familiarity with the subject before learning. This subject has
already been mentioned in the Establishment of Purpose and is a rough
collecting together of knowledge that the learner already has on the
topic he is about to study. Even a quick flick through an encyclopaedia
(computer-based or otherwise) on the subject will help. What these
actions do is ´prime` the brain memory system to use the knowledge it
already possesses and to expect change or expansion.
Step (2) - Read through
overview and section structure slides.
Reading through the title slide, overview slide and section
structure slides gives the learner a structure to his learning. It
demonstrates how the various topics fit together and gives an indication
of priority, interest, conflict etc.
Step (3) - Speed-read
through the complete presentation. Flashing through the presentation
either by a quick flick through the slides or using the left side bar
next to the presentation in its creation form can give an indication of
the material in more detail. It stimulates interest, prompts the ´hooking`
of information to previous knowledge albeit at a low level and lets the
learner see where the boundaries are for this material.
A sub-conscious building of a picture of the material occurs.
Step (4) - Intensive read
through of the complete presentation. The quick speed-reading
session is followed by a more intent read through of the material. This
intent reading should be done either aloud, or using inner speech so
that every word is appreciated. This intensifies the ´picture` began in
step (4). It is possible that the presentation view of the material can
be used for this stage and hence, the order of the information is shown.
Step (5) - Learn material. This is the time-consuming phase and can be carried out by one of two methods depending on the individual. Learning can be done either ´bit by bit` or ´all at once`. The former means that a little material is learnt by reading it through intensively, then repeating it several times until the mere sight of a small portion of it leads to correct prediction of what is coming. This procedure is repeated for the next ´bit`, but the previous part may be repeated first. This exercise is repeated until all the material is learnt.
Learning ´all at once` probably suits shorter presentations, but can apply for longer ones, especially where details are simpler or of higher interest. In this case the presentation is read through in its entirety many times and the prediction tested from the beginning and continuing systematically to the end. The method chosen depends on many factors including the length and quality of the material, the subject, as well as the level of background knowledge providing the ´learning hooks`.
In all cases learning is carried out by reading the presentation out aloud or using inner speech. The reader has to watch as the words develop and follow with speech. Temporary visual memory stores decay within 3 seconds whereas auditory ones decay within 6 seconds so using speech can sustain the firing necessary for the long-term memory physiological changes. The speed of slide appearance can be changed in most programmes to match individual capability so reading aloud is not an issue. The learning process is repeated as many times as needed and success is said to occur when the learner actually knows what is coming before the slide appears and is completely correct with his prediction. Sometimes, it may be necessary to test success during the learning process and testing is described in a later section.
One of the most common mistakes of learning is that the learner tries to do too much at one time. He probably is under pressure to learn the contents of a manual or report in a short amount of time and tries to achieve this by cramming as much as possible. Success is more easily achieved by a carefully planned study session allowing time for learning and time for relaxing. It is suggested here that study periods should be in blocks of 5 minutes with a one-minute interval. This interval should be used to relax the eyes with eye exercises (such as cover one eye and put out opposite arm straight ahead and then look at hand, and then in the distance, repeat with other eye and hand; or cover one eye and roll other eye in a clockwise movement in both directions, repeat with other eye) or look at the meditation symbol on the slides and relax. The five-and-one learning periods should be repeated for 20-45 minutes when at this point, a five-minute relaxation break is needed. In this longer interval, the reader should get up, walk around, stretch a bit, repeat the eye exercises etc. anything so that circulation and attention is refreshed. Even if revision is going well this pattern of learning and relaxation (or a similar one determined by own personal success and needs) should be adhered to since it means that the learner remains relaxed and confident throughout the whole learning session.
It is possible that not all material can be learnt in one go and so for this the natural breaks in the material (e.g. the end of a section, a new slide) are used to determine the limits. If tiredness does become an issue, then a shift to paper and pen for a short while may provide enough of a change to re-stimulate learning.
Step (6) - Reward. Adding
reward of some sort gives the learner something to aim for and it is
determined at the beginning of learning and written in the Establishment
of Purpose. In this case, reward can be anything that gives the learner
pleasure, e.g. the promise of a long-awaited outing, a bar of chocolate,
one hour spent social networking or even just a ´pat on the back`.
STAGE 6 - TESTING
AND REVISION OF THE MATERIAL
At this point, the material has been learnt using the computer and with the material in the form of a presentation, success is measured by the correct prediction of what is coming on the slides. This involves only repetition of the material and does not really test whether it has been understood or can be applied to other things. This section describes how testing can be carried out using the computer to help learning and wider interpretation of the material and again has an emphasis on the use of language. The science behind the testing includes hypotheses on attention networks, attended and non-attended information, visual search theories, and primacy and recency rules for example (´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`).
The testing created may form part of the revision schedule. We know that memories can decay and therefore, as well as learning, we also need to keep this knowledge fresh. By revising the material at set intervals, long-term memory stores are consolidated and therefore, forgetting is less likely to occur.
The advantage of using a computer for this type
of task is that it is quick to install and quick to adjust to one`s own
requirements. Two types of testing are suggested here:
A straightforward repetition of original material.
Testing of learnt material using a ´question and answer` type
These methods are described below,
but just as for learning, testing should take place only in blocks of
20 - 40 minutes with breaks or it can be inserted within the
learning periods. The learner should always be positive about the
results, e.g. not 75% forgotten, but 25% remembered and reward should
fit the success. Success of each testing session should be recorded
either in the Establishment of Purpose or the learning journal, so that
revision schedules and improvement are known. This ensures learning
method (1) that of straightforward repetition is carried out just like
in the learning process described above. It can be carried out in parts
or as a whole and can be adapted to suit the level of knowledge the
learner has. For example, slides can be frozen, the slide transition
increased, slides can be skipped or even the left hand side bar of the
presentation can be used. In each case the learner refers back to the
original to check accuracy of the recall. Just like in learning, this
form of testing should be carried out aloud or with inner speech and to
accommodate the need for language that readers of this book have, the
learner could imagine himself giving a lecture or explaining the
material to someone who has no previous knowledge of it. Success of
learning is again measured on the exact repetition of the contents of
each slide and reward should be given accordingly.
testing with questions
The second method of testing involves making a
copy of the presentation as it stands after the conversion and then
completely adjusting the slides into the form of questions or tasks
that need to be answered by the learner. For this to be successful, the
learner has to have understood the material, as well as just knowing it.
Slides are dealt with differently depending on the content and this is
where the computer is invaluable since changes can be made quickly, and
testing is repeatable with little effort.
For overview and section structure slides, it is suggested that the format of testing is such that the learner just needs to see the main heading and then be able to fill in the relating topics. The method of creating this type of testing slide is by first making a copy of the overview/section structure slide and designating the first slide as the testing slide and the second slide, the checking slide. In the testing slide copy, the main heading should be left and also the first letters of each subheading. The rest of the words should be deleted as should all timing and animation. In the top right hand corner, a text box should be inserted with the number of alterations written in. This is an important part of the testing process, as it gives an indication of the success at the time and can be recorded to show how learning is progressing.
The process of testing means that the
learner should review the testing slide left to right, clockwise, saying
aloud (or using inner speech) the names of the missing sub-headings. The
names can also be written down if desired. The answers are then compared
to the second slide, the original or checking slide. The amount
correct at that time is recorded either as a stand-alone note or as
part of the record in the learning journal, associating result with
topic and slide number.
For informational slides, the basic
principle for each slide is for the learner to imagine the hardest
questions that could ever be asked on the content of that particular
slide. This forms the basis of testing. Therefore for each slide, a copy
is made and as before, the first slide is the testing slide, and the
second slide, the checking slide.
The testing slides are created by taking
the first slide and adjusting the content, which can mean inserting
questions or tasks in any form relevant or appropriate to the content of
that slide. A list of possible testing techniques is given below. Then,
any unwanted material is deleted, e.g. words, letters, which essentially
means the answers to the given tasks. The order of the slide, text
relevancy and sufficient information so that the learner has a chance of
remembering the content of the slide should be kept, but it may be
necessary to change the format of the slide to cope with the new
language and tasks. Again, on each slide in the top right corner, a text
box should be added with the number of changes made in order that an
assessment of learning can be made. As for straightforward repetition
testing, all timing and animation should be removed.
The testing process of informational
slides follows the method suggested for overview/general structure
slides with the learner looking at the slide, answering the questions or
doing the tasks aloud or using inner speech. The testing order follows
left to right, or clockwise. For each testing slide, checks are made
against the original and the success of learning is recorded either
short-term for that session or long-term in the learning journal or on
the Establishment of Purpose sheet. The number of times the testing
cycle is completed at any one time is dependent on the material quantity
and the success achieved.
possible testing techniques
Numerous methods are suggested for inserting testing into the
presentation of the material so that learning efficiency is increased.
The learner can choose the method suitable for the material or can do it
randomly, adjusting it so that the testing is creditworthy. Testing can
even be changed over time to add variety and stretch the learner even
further. For each method, the original text is deleted and replaced by
the testing format.
Possible testing techniques
Insert ´who, what, where, why, how` type questions. The learner
has to answer questions using the material.
Leave only the first letter of the main words or first numbers of
a series and delete all others. The learner has to guess the words or
numbers. This method is not suitable for large portions of text, and is
better for headings and sub-headings or numbers.
Insert ´describe` type testing.
Insert ´give reasons for………….` type testing.
Insert ´compare…..` type testing where compare can be from
slide content to previous knowledge or other information contained
within that presentation.
Rewrite text as true/false statements.
Insert opposites/matching type testing tasks.
Use ´cut and paste` facility to create disjointed texts so that
the learner has to put the text in the correct order.
Jumble the words of the text so that the learner has to put the
text in the correct order.
Omit words in the text and ask the learner to fill in the correct
answer. (Or can omit half the numbers and ask the learner to fill in the
correct answers. This method is suitable for chronological dates, for
Insert agree/disagree statements. The text may be altered so that
incorrect text is observed in the testing slide.
Omit the end of sentences so that the learner has to finish off
In the case of tables, omit column or row entries and ask the
reader to fill in the missing numbers or vocabulary.
Create a word tree and ask the learner to fill it in.
Find the correct word amongst a jumble of irrelevant words.
Insert ´what would happen if….?` type questions instead of the
Insert ´what comes next….?` type questions instead of the
text. This method is good for chronological text.
Create ´if ….then…..` type scenarios.
Use keywords and ask for an explanation.
Create multiple choice questions.
Insert ´what would you like……?` type questions so that
opinion is introduced.
Create acronyms and ask the learner to fill them in.
Create ´spot the difference` type tasks.
The advantages of using a computer for long-term memory learning are the ease of storage and recall and the ease at which the material can be tested. It is common knowledge that memories fail with time. Buzan (1974) reported that in general immediate recall showed an efficiency of only 75%, with a slow decrease to approx 35% after 5 hours. Decline may not be even with more material being remembered at the beginning and end or in the middle if associated with great personal interest. In most cases, learning is associated with a rise in recall shortly after learning said to be due to assimilation of the material, followed by a steep fall so that 80% is lost within 24 hours.
Buzan (1974) suggested a revision schedule
to counteract this decline and this is advocated here in this book, too.
He suggested that about 10 minutes after the learning session, the
material should be reviewed for about 10 minutes. This involves complete
revision and in this case, the straightforward testing method described
above in 7.5.2 is recommended. After 24 hours, Buzan (1974) suggested
that the material should be reviewed for only 2-4 minutes with the
learner writing down everything he can remember. This should be checked
against the original and any additions and corrections made so that the
material is 100% correct. For this type of revision, it is suggested
here that the learner uses the testing methods described above (maybe
the straightforward repetition method) and success should be recorded.
After 1 week, Buzan (1974) suggested that this revision method should be
repeated and again after one month. This is also recommended here, again
using either the straightforward repetition or the testing slides
created, or both. All results and the revision schedule should be
recorded in the learning journal or at least in the Establishment of
Purpose. In this way, all the hard work done in the learning stages is
not lost and the material remains fresh. It also allows additional
material to be added.
few years have seen vast changes in the capabilities of computers and
therefore, it is sensible that we adapt our learning methods to
accommodate the rising use of computers in our every day lives. It is
not suggested that the above method of learning using presentation style
techniques is suitable for every learning situation, or even for
everybody, but if it increases effectiveness and allows the learner to
store and review material at ease then it should be considered as a
MEMORY FORMATION: FURTHER STAGES USING PEN AND PAPER
The previous section shows a method of long-term
learning using the computer, but a computer is not always at hand, and
sometimes time is short and the material not always suitable. In this
section, I describe an alternative method for permanent memory formation
using pen and paper, again based on Buzan`s mind map (1974).
There are other methods available such as the card file box system (Leitner,
2011), but my personal opinion sways towards the less cumbersome method
of mind mapping where not only the facts are learnt, but the
associations between them.
general notes about long-term learning described above apply here too,
as does the Establishment of Purpose. Learning begins just like with the
computer-based method with an assessment of the material with a quick
read through first followed by a more thorough reading stage. A critical
assessment of the material is made according to that described above.
The differences in the use of computer or paper and pen become clear at
Stage 3 and Stage 4 where the marked text or notes are then converted
from their original form to a learning form – the paper-based mind
STAGES 3 and 4 - CREATION OF THE MIND MAPS
In the previous section, the material is
converted into a learning form using the computer software available for
creating presentations and is learnt using the presentations created.
However, in this case, where paper and pen are being used, the material
is converted instead into drawn mind maps (Buzan, 1974) and
learnt from these. This method is suggested because it also ticks many
of the boxes required for the biochemical mechanisms for long-term brain
memory formation, such as providing repetition for sustained activation,
allowing the use of language which in this book is the preferred form,
and forming associations between information so that processing and
re-enforcement of previously stored material occurs, hence creating
memories and strengthening pre-formed ones. For the purposes of
long-term learning suggested here, a more simplified version of mind
mapping is proposed. Similarities and differences between both can be
seen in Table 17.
Table 17 – Similarities and
differences between conventional and proposed styles for mind maps
As far as the tools for this type of
learning are concerned, I suggest that for ´paper`, single sheets and a
suitable folder are used rather than bound notebooks. These may be neat
and tidy, but are restrictive in terms of learning and note adaptation.
The question of pens is purely individual, and whilst I prefer black
pencils and black, blue, red and green ball-point pens I accept that
others may prefer other colours and highlighters. Whichever tools are
used, a constant supply of writing materials and a good filing system
for the created papers are necessary.
conversion to the mind map headings (Stage 3)
Long-term learning using paper and pen begins the
same way as that using a computer. The available material is assessed
through a quick scan and a more thorough reading. Marking of the text
using pens, pencils or highlighters or note taking is carried out. In
the method using the computer, this marked text or notes provide the
basis for the tables that will eventually form the presentation slides.
In this method, the marked text or notes provide instead the basis for
the headings and informational entries that will be constructed into a
mind map on paper (Stage 4). Therefore, the headings and entries in this
case have the same form as that for the tables and slides in the
long-term learning method using the computer. Headings or entries are:
construction of the mind map (Stage 4)
As the material is being read aloud thoroughly or
afterwards by looking only for the markings and notes, the required
information independent of form is transferred in a logical manner from
the original material to paper. Three types of mind map are
created equivalent to the three types of slides created in the
computer-generated presentation version: the overview mind map, section
structure mind map and informational mind maps. Two additional pages
are included: the ´meditation/concentration` picture page and the ´surprise`
The overview mind map, based on the layout
suggested by Buzan (1974) and recommended according to my own
preferences in Table 17, is created by taking a fresh piece of paper and
writing the main subject as a heading in a ´box` placed in the
centre of paper. This ´box` can be a circle, oval or any other shape
desired, but I prefer a square or cubed shape for this important
heading. The text is written in small capitals. Starting top left, and
proceeding right and then round clockwise, headings are written in
circles and joined to the main heading in the centre by lines. The order
of these headings comes from the facts and sometimes there is a clear,
logical order, such as chronology, developmental stages or order of
appearance and sometimes random. The location of each source of
the subject can be included in the box, e.g. page numbers, paragraph
numbers or some pre-determined, personal numbering system.
Section structure overview mind maps are
created like the overview page regarding style and layout, but the main
topic is the central heading and sub-headings representing related
topics stem from that. These headings are taken from the markings in the
material and therefore, good, critical assessment at the earlier reading
stage makes these mind maps complete and accurate. The style of the
headings is as for the overview page and lines are used to show
relationships. A variety of shapes, colours, symbols etc. can be used to
change the outlook and show priority etc. From these mind maps the
learner is led to the informational ones for each topic so these links
must be clearly marked.
If necessary, informational mind maps can
also be created giving details to the topics shown on the section
structure pages. The topic heading should take the central position and
then the information written around it and linked with lines and arrows
as appropriate. Details need not be complete if especially complicated,
since the learner can use just paragraph numbers, or locations in the
original text as reference.
Two additional pages are created: the ´surprise`
page and the meditation/concentration page. The ´surprise`
page can be a picture, joke, etc. anything that can stimulate interest
again in the topic. This is placed randomly in the mind map collection.
The second page is a picture that leads to a relaxing feeling, e.g. a
picture of the sea or clouds, and is therefore, termed the ´meditation/concentration`
page. Looking at this allows the learner to re-focus attention and
gives a short break from learning without leaving the material.
This is equivalent to the meditation symbol placed on the
Once created the mind maps are filed with the
Establishment of Purpose. The order of the mind maps begins with
the overview page, followed by the section structure overview page of
the first topic (either found top left or in chronological order on the
overview page), and its supplementary informational mind map pages if
present. Next comes the next section structure layout page found on the
right of the one above and this is continued until all pages are filed
in order. This order gives the order of learning so it is important it
is logical. To prevent confusion, once the order is established, each
mind map should be numbered, e.g. using numbers, letters of the
alphabet, Roman numerals, Greek letters etc. just in case the pages are
shuffled. Surprise pictures are added at random throughout the file and
the meditation picture placed after the overview page. These should not
be included in the numbering scheme.
Once filed, the learner should do a final
check-through and go through the mind maps once more. It may be
necessary to change the order, rewrite some pages for example as now an
overall layout of the material can now be seen. Omissions, repetitions,
biasness etc. may now be apparent and the learner has to decide whether
these will be dealt with or ignored, but they should be noted on the
relevant maps. This completes the conversion stage and now the material
is ready to be learnt.
STAGE 5 - LEARNING THE MATERIAL
The learning process using the mind maps consists of a
straightforward repeat of the material with material being learnt on
show and other material covered. Repetition of the material is
paramount. Just like the computer learning experience, the learning
process using paper and pen has a series of steps and these are:
Step (1) - Establish
familiarity with the subject before learning. Just like for the
learning process using the computer, the learner should write on a piece
of paper in ´mind map` style everything he knows already about the
subject. This ´priming` provides the basis on which the new
learning will form.
Step (2) - Read through
the overview mind map. Reading
through the overview map gives the individual a structure to his
learning and shows how the mind maps will fit together, hence how the
facts fit together.
Step (3) - Speed-read
through the complete collection of mind maps. This stimulates
interest and prompts the ´hooking` of the information to the previous
knowledge. This should be carried out aloud or using inner speech.
Step (4) - Intensive read
through of the complete collection of mind maps. The quick
speed-reading session is followed by a more intent read through of the
material, which is done either aloud, or using inner speech. This
intensifies the ´picture` began in step (4).
Step (5) - Learn material. For this stage, blank pieces of paper are required so that unwanted material can be covered. The learning stage begins by placing the meditation picture above the overview page. The meditation page allows the learner to take a short break to re-focus attention if he notices that efficiency is lower or distractions creeping in. The learning process begins by learning first of all the overview page. This page is placed below the meditation page and the right side of it is covered with a piece of paper. The text heading on the top left is then read out aloud (or using inner speech). The reading and speaking is repeated and then the learner should look away and try to say the heading. By looking at it again a check can be made and if it is correct, then learning can proceed to the next heading (on the right of the first). The process is repeated including a check on whether the previously learnt material can still be remembered. This process is repeated for each heading going left to right and then clockwise. Once successfully learnt, the overview page is placed to the left of meditation page and the first section structure overview page is taken and placed under the meditation picture. Learning from this point on can be done either ´bit by bit` or ´all at once`.
´Bit by bit` learning means a small portion of a page is learnt at a time. If all the text is on one piece of paper then the rest is covered, leaving only one or two headings free. (The learner could look away, but it is easier to cover). The text should be read aloud or inner speech should be used and then this reading should be repeated. After every stage, the learner has to look away and say what has been learnt. The process is considered a success if this can be done correctly. Then another piece is covered and the whole process repeated. The order of learning goes left to right then clockwise and the process repeated from one page to another. It starts with the section structure page, followed by the related information pages. Informational pages are placed to the left and right of the section structure overview page for learning. This way the learner can see the relevance to the general picture. Once learnt, the next section structure overview page is taken and the process followed as above, going from page to page in the order established in the previous section.
Learning ´all at once` probably suits smaller amounts of material, but it can apply for longer ones, especially where details are simpler or of higher interest. In this case, the mind maps are read through in their entirety many times and the prediction tested from the beginning and continuing systematically to the end. Placement of pages occurs as for ´bit by bit` learning with the meditation page central top, overview to the left of the meditation picture, section structure overview page underneath and any informational pages to the left and right of this.
Just like with computer learning the most effective learning is achieved in a carefully planned study session with 5 minute learning blocks with a one-minute interval for a maximum of 20-45 minutes. At this point, a five-minute relaxation break is needed which should include movement.
Step (6) - Reward. Just like
in the computer-aided learning method, adding a reward, determined
before the learning session begins helps the learner to focus and learn
effectively. This is recorded in the Establishment of Purpose.
STAGE 6 - TESTING AND REVISION OF THE MATERIAL
Testing of material learnt using paper and pen
takes the form of either straightforward repetition of the learning
material or completing specially constructed testing pages, just like
that suggested for the computer-based learning method.
The straightforward repetition method is
well known, for example used in the use of the card filing system for
learning (Leitner, 2011), but here I suggest the use of paper and the
original mind maps constructed for the learning material. As in
learning, the meditation picture is placed central top, and the testing
begins with the overview page, which is placed below the meditation
picture. Parts of the page are covered and the learner has to say out
aloud or using inner speech what is on the page. This is checked against
the original. The process is repeated with the covered material. Another
way is using a blank piece of paper and all headings have to be written
down without mistake. Once correct, the overview page is placed top left
of the meditation picture and the first section structure overview page
placed centrally below the meditation picture. Parts of this are covered
and again the learner has to say out aloud what is there. The process is
repeated for every page of the mind map collection and all the time, the
texts are spoken aloud or silently. A record of success of recall or
difficulties should be made so that the efficiency of the learning
process can be made.
Just like in the learning method using the
computer presentation, testing can also be carried out using questions
and tasks constructed by the individual. These can be constructed
according to the techniques suggested above and written on pages that
mirror the layout of the mind maps they apply to. In the case of the
overview page, the main heading is should be left and for all the
section headings, only the first letter is written inside the text box.
For the section structure overview mind maps, the main heading remains,
but the rest of the sub-headings are represented by only their
boxes/circles and the first letter of the missing heading or any
appropriate questions and tasks as indicated above. The informational
mind maps are dealt with in the same way, except there should be more
emphasis on including testing techniques, such as those suggested for
the computer method. In the top right corner of each testing page, a box
should be added indicating the number of alterations made. This allows
success to be monitored.
The process of testing means that the
learner should review the testing mind map left to right, clockwise,
saying aloud (or using inner speech) the names of the missing
sub-headings and answering the questions or tasks, if present. These can
also be written down if desired. Answers are then compared to the
original and the amount correct recorded either as a stand-alone
note or as part of the learning journal.
The number of times the testing cycle is
completed at any one time is dependent on the material quantity and the
success achieved. Just as for learning, testing should take place only
in blocks of 20-45 minutes with breaks or it can be inserted
within the learning periods themselves. Reward should fit the
Once the material is learnt and tested, a revision schedule
should be planned out according to the computer version to prevent
forgetting. This should be recorded in the Establishment of Purpose or
in the learning ournal since permanent memory formation requires
refreshment of the stimulus to maintain the long-term memory stores.
Therefore, just like with the computer-learning method, safe-keeping of
all papers is paramount.
In many ways, long-term learning using paper and pen is
comparable to the method using the computer. The material is assessed
for its content and converted to a form, which makes learning easier and
quicker. In this case, instead of using computer programmes and
transferring the material to a presentation-type format, the information
is drawn as mind maps (Buzan, 1974) and learning and testing occurs
using these instead. Neither method is an easy option, since both
require time and effort, but sometimes one is more favourable than the
other. What can be said though, is that the effort put in at the
different stages pays off in the end with learning efficiency and
longevity of the stored memories.
Not everyone looks the same, has the same
attitudes and interests and in the same way, not everyone learns the
same. Our individuality in lifestyle, levels of experience and
stimulation as well as more obtuse factors such as our attitudes and
approaches to learning via our personality mean that learning method and
success of learning is personal. This website accompanying the book ´Learning
with Words` (Salt, 2012) describes how some of these factors can be
optimised in order that learning becomes more effective.
Individuality also means that there can be no
single strategy for learning. People develop over time their own
favourite methods and these are relied on because they work to some
degree, whether from a biochemical basis, fulfilling the conditions
required to turn sensory stimuli to permanent memories, or from a task
basis, where the method leads to successful completion of a required
task. Not all methods are suitable for everyone and often people become
frustrated because highly regarded techniques appear to be less
successful for them than their favourites. This study describes learning
strategies for those of us whose strengths point towards using language
to learn. It describes a method for learning material that has to be
recalled within a short amount of time and two methods for recall after
a longer period of time. The methods are based on the biochemical
mechanism for brain memory described in the companion site and book, ´Brain
Memory: Outside the Box`.
Short-term learning relies on converting the
material to a form that satisfies the limited nature of the short-term
memory stores. Language ´tricks` allow these stores to be artificially
expanded and the required processing, repetition and increase in
interest and attention ensures that the material is learnt and can be
recalled at will within the time limit. Everyone has at least one method
for doing this type of learning (usually counting on the fingers), but
this study possibly introduces new ones that can improve efficiency, or
at least add variety.
Long-term learning is more time-consuming and
requires more effort on the part of the individual to be successful.
This does not just mean learning, but also includes a revision schedule
to maintain the knowledge. What is the point of spending hours learning
something only to find the information gone within days or months.
Since this book and website is intended for those
of us who prefer to use language to learn, we have to start with a look
at the learning material. Videos, podcasts, TV documentaries are major
sources of information, but are hardly ideal learning material for
people who need to see something written down in order to learn it.
Therefore, the strategies proposed here for long-term learning begin
with an assessment of the available material and a conversion of it to
the form favourable to us, i.e. conversion of all material into our own
´language` (by this I mean level and personal vocabulary, not just
whether it is English or French for example).
The next stages are dependent on whether a
computer or pen and paper will be used, but both are based in principle
on Buzan`s mind map concept, a well-known memory enhancing ´tool`. The
former method means that the now personalised material is used to form
computer presentation slides that can be learnt and revised as a
presentation. The latter method means that the personalised material is
drawn as mind maps and learnt with the covering and swopping of pieces
of paper. Both require time and effort, but the proposed learning,
testing and revision schedules hopefully make the process more
efficient. Although specific stages of the process can be directly
positively related to specific stages of the biochemical mechanism
advocated here and described in the companion website, overall the
strategies encompass the biochemical benefits of increased processing
I hope that you have found the study of some use, even if you
haven`t found all the answers you need to make your learning as
effective as it can be. All that is now required is to wish you success
in whatever learning task stands before you.