Enhancing Short-Term Memory Processes

Enhancing Short-Term Memory Processes: 5 Strategies For eLearning Professionals

  1. Chunk information to reduce cognitive overload.
    Information chunking, that is grouping of related information together, has been proved an effective strategy in order to prevent cognitive overwhelm. Given Miller's 7±2 principle described above, by chunking similar concepts or ideas together, we may be able to place more information in each memory “slot”, thereby expanding the capacity of the short-term memory of our learners.
  2. Use auditory stimuli to improve knowledge retention and recall. 
    As mentioned earlier, the short-term memory thrives on auditory stimuli. According to Atkinson and Shiffrin (1971), our short-term memory can hold information anywhere between 15 to 30 seconds. However, if we hear concepts or ideas repeatedly in audio form we can acoustically encode the information, a process referred to as "rehearsal", thereby committing it to our long-term memories. Believe it or not, our short-term memory even transforms visual data into sounds to memorize it more efficiently. When creating your eLearning course include audiopresentations, narratives and music to boost knowledge retention and information recall.
  3. Encourage learners to apply previously learned concepts.
    When we encourage our learners to apply information they have already learned, this gives them the opportunity to decrease the amount of knowledge decay. The old adage “if you don’t use it you lose it” aptly applies to the short-term memory. When we don’t give learners a chance to rehearse and repeat information they have gathered, they will begin to forget key concepts within a matter of seconds. Scenarios, simulations, and end-of-chapter assessments are all exercises that involve information recall.
  4. Support key takeaways.
    Interestingly, our short-term memory is actually able to remember items at the beginning and at the end of a lesson more effectively than those in the middle. This is known as the serial position curve, which is comprised of two tendencies: primacy and recency. Primacy suggests that concepts in the beginning of a lesson can be more easily remembered because, as they are learned first, the short-term memory has the most time to absorb them. Recency refers to the other end of the spectrum, dictating that the concepts at the end of the lesson are stored in the short-term memory because no other concepts were learned after them. There were no additional items to serve as a distraction, so your mind could easily absorb them. You can take advantage of the serial position curve by placing important ideas or key takeaways near the beginning and the end of your eLearning unit. For example, you can highlight the most important concepts on the first page, and then review them again on the last.
  5. Grab their attention with stories and scenarios.
    Learners can more effectively memorize new information if it is somehow connected to real world challenges or situations. You can help to improve knowledge retention by offering them simulations, scenarios, or stories that tie into relevant and relatable issues or tasks they may encounter on a daily basis. This not only shows them the benefits of learning the information, but also directs their attention to the key points of the eLearing course. Thus, they will be less likely to forget the subject matter if they have formed a connection with it during the learning process.

Short-term memory is the gateway to long-term knowledge retention. Designing eLearning courses that cater to the short-term memory can give your learners the opportunity to remember the key takeaways in their short run, so that they can put them to good use in the long run.