We start learning since we are born and some of us continue to learn for the rest of their life. Memory and learning are college needs. What is the role of memory in the learning process? While memory is clearly necessary for learning, sometimes we learn without doing a memorization effort. I shall explain how this happens.


Transparent Language

We learn first to speak and to walk and we are not even aware that we learn. Then we learn to read and write. We do this mainly by practicing reading and writing and thus for many children there is no explicit effort involved to memorize the letters of the alphabet. We don’t begin by simply memorizing the alphabet. We just read and write again and again until we know all the letters and we understand the words, the phrases.

In primary school we already learn several subjects. We begin to realize that we need a good memory to learn a poem by heart. Usually, to learn a whole poem by heart one must do an effort to memorize the poem. But to learn math, for example (at least this is how I learned math) we do lots of exercises. We learn rules and theorems by solving math problems, and so no explicit memorization effort is involved. To solve math problems we need to understand how to use those rules and theorems, though.

Later, when we go to college, we have to learn more and more and there is little time to learn. Now we start using the memory more. We memorize lots of things, after we understood them, after we made connections with our previous knowledge. We still do exercises and perhaps solve math and physics problems, but we spend less time doing exercises. We realize that we need a good memory, among others, to graduate from college. We thus use memorization explicitly.
We need to constantly train our memory to work well. We repeat many times, either by writing down or by reading (perhaps aloud) what we want to memorize, or by doing both reading and writing. We speak to others about what we learn and this is how we memorize and understand better. We try to make visual representations of what we learn, as another method of memorization.

To learn a foreign language or a computer programing language we need both to practice a lot and to explicitly memorize words and expressions (together with their meaning), especially if we want to learn quickly.

If one becomes a graduate student and needs to get familiarized with a certain field of research, one has to read many articles and memorize some important results presented in those articles. It is true that you can look up many things that you do not remember. There are books for this and there is Internet. But to facilitate communication with your colleagues and professors you need to remember lots of things. Memory plays an important role when one becomes a specialist in a certain domain of knowledge.

Even when we retire, many of us continue to learn and to exercise our memory. The more we use our memory, the better it becomes. And it is such a joy to learn and to continue to remember what you had learned.

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