Technology of memory

I wrote a while ago about the science of memory – I’ve just come across an interesting Wired article about Piotr Wozniak and his own-life project based on implementing an idea about how to remember more stuff, via his software SuperMemo.  The website and software seem terribly clunky, but the idea has some appeal.  It’s at least one level if not two levels of description up from neurotransmitters, which makes implementation look more convincing.

The finding – allegedly supported by lab research, but I’ve not chased that down (yet?) – is that recall tails off exponentially, and that the rate of fall-off reduces with subsequent reminders, and that there is therefore a pattern of optimum reminder times to learn something – like this:

Now, I’m generally suspicious of the notion that really good learning requires a lot of memorisation, for all sorts of reasons (not least that it’s so often used as an excuse to teach only rote memorisation and not do more fundamental stuff).  And I’m also suspicious of the idea of learning facts in isolation.  (I’m also not entirely sold on the idea that there exist unproblematic ‘facts’ that are unproblematically available to educators to deploy

But I do buy the argument that a certain amount of memorisation is needed in some areas.  And a structured remembering system for some things – e.g. tasks – seems like a really good idea.  It might be a better plan than the Remember The Milk/Getting Things Done approach too.  (Considered thoughts on which are for another post, but I’m deliberately putting off getting in to organisational systems since – for me – it would be a terrible – and ultimately fruitless – distraction from actually getting things done.)

I wouldn’t go all the way that Wozniak has done and turn one’s entire life into a rational project, but I do believe that it is often possible to change the way one is in quite powerful ways.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.

1 thought on “Technology of memory”

  1. Just popped back to say that this post led me indirectly to trying out Mnemosyne, which is rather cool! So thanks!

    I had heard before of the “optimum reminder” thing, but I don’t think I’d ever known there was software based around it. Or if I had known that, I had certainly forgotten (ha).

    What I’ve put into Mnemosyne is not q&a learning, but some general good principles which I sometimes forget to apply, or indeed forget all about 🙂 So if I’m feeling stuck or at a loose end I can dip into it for a bit of wisdom &/or inspiration. That’s working quite well for me so far.

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