Monday, August 17, 2015


There is much literature to suggest that learning occurs on the 40:40:40 rule. This rule posits the view that there are some things we commit to short term memory and others to long term memory. Let me illustrate.

Think back to a significant incident in your childhood.

Here are some questions to consider;

What do you remember?
Why do you remember it?
What did that incident mean to you?
Has it shaped the way you do things today?
Has it shaped the way you relate to other people?
What did the experience teach you about yourself?

The experience probably did not happen in a classroom. If it did, it probably was not a deliberate part of a teacher’s lesson plan. But the experience stuck, the learning was committed to the long term memory. That is the important thing.

If we can distill the essence of that experience and translate it into meaningful learning experiences for our students, we would have a good chance of constructing learning experiences that will be committed to their long term memory. So let’s see why the experience stuck.

Why the experience stuck
The experience, and all the consequent learning, stuck because the event was meaningful to us. It could have been a first experience, it could have involved people close to us or it could have resulted in a life choice that we are living with even till today. Regardless, that experience, for one reason or another, became meaningful to us and that made us commit it to our long term memory.

In the same way, we as educators hold sway over those very same facets of our student’s lives. We do greatly influence what they commit to their long and short term memories. Here’s why.

First experiences are important
Think back to the episode in your life which you were recalling earlier; were the actors in your recount deliberate in creating that experience for you? Did they realize the impact they were leaving on you? This is the importance that learning experiences have, what more first experiences.

Teachers often overlook introductions and pass them off as lead-ins. This cannot be further from the truth. If their first experience of a subject disinterests them, our students would have little impetus to commit their time and energies to giving you a second chance. And since our students come to us to learn something new, how great your influence when you are introducing something for the first time.

What we do and say influence their learning
What we do and say, or even don’t do or don’t say, guide our students by either opening or closing doors of opportunity for them.

Go back again to that experience. How much of what was said to you was deliberately and purposefully trying to send the message that it did? Did the actors even mean what they said? Regardless, did it change the way you viewed yourself? Did it change the way you viewed and related to others?

So how we position education, learning, subjects, topics, is therefore all the more vital in either imbuing or killing the interest in our children, and hence, their motivation to learn.

As children, did we not have people whom we looked up to? Did we not take best to things that they themselves were interested in? Did we not find ourselves picking up their lingo and emulating their demeanor? So how we position the information they are to learn is of extreme importance. If we position a subject to our students as merely something they need to know to get by and pass their exams, we will be conditioning them to park all the information into the first 40; the 40 days or weeks; the short term memory. We should instead focus on giving them a reason to retain the information for longer. And we will see how we do that in our next section.

Next up: Giving them a reason to learn

Understanding Education

How to promote Effective Learning

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