What is the difference between memory and learning?

Memory and learning are so closely connected that people often confuse them with each other. But the specialists who study them consider them two distinct phenomena. These specialists define learning as a process that will modify a subsequent behavior. Memory, on the other hand is the ability to remember past experiences.

Memory is essential to all learning because it lets you store and retrieve the information that you learn. Memory is basically nothing more than the record left by a learning process.

Just as the relationship between remembering and learning exists, there is also a relationship between remembering and understanding. If we understand something, we are often able to remember it better. Understanding enables us to know where to store the information in long-term memory and effective storage is more likely to lead to effective retrieval. Also, if we are able to retrieve previously learned information from long-term memory when we are presented with new-to-be-learned information, we can make associations between the two and, therefore understand the new information better. In this way, memory facilitates understanding. If we think of the long-term memory as a network of connections, then what we are doing is making new connections between what we already know and what we are trying to learn.

Many school children perform poorly because they do not understand the difference between understanding and remembering. They often think that if they understand what the teachers say about some topic or if they understand what they read in their textbooks, they will remember the information. They do not think they need to study much for a test because they understood their teacher’s discussion or the chapter in their textbook.

This failure to recognize the difference between learning and memory leads to the demise of many students. They become frustrated and don’t know what to do to improve poor test grades. A prerequisite to making good grades would be to know that understanding the subject matter is not enough; they must also actively engage in activities that will lead to the storage and ultimate retrieval of relevant information from long-term memory.

These learning approaches are ineffective: reading while listening to music, studying around friends, studying for more than 45 minutes at a time, or staying up all night before an exam. Kids like to study while listening to music, but they will remember 20-30% less than kids who memorize in silence.

Here are some proven techniques that will help your child actively engage with the material he/she is studying: taking notes while reading or listening, studying for short periods of time (even 5-10 minutes can help tremendously), and applying memory “tricks” like acronyms (Roy G Biv for the colors of a rainbow) or metaphors. We have also included some additional techniques that will help store information in the long-term memory.

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