Memory is a skill that is fundamental at any stage of a student’s education, which is why memory tools -also called mnemonics– are often taught from a very early age. Although these methods have been the same for a long time, technology can still improve upon them.
What are mnemonics?
Learning poems by heart, visualizing information by associating words or concepts with images, as well as creating acronyms and acrostics to remember sentences are all well known mnemonics that are taught to small children. These tools can be used to remember all sorts of information, from historical facts to musical lines and even mathematical rules.
Unfortunately, while mnemonics can be applied to any class and any grade, they are mostly used in Special Education classes, especially as students get older.
Mnemonics work and, as students progress in their education, they might actually need to use them even more. Memorization-heavy classes are present throughout high school and university, especially in STEM fields, and students who might benefit from these tools are not always integrating them in their study habits.
Limitations of mnemonics
Mnemonics are tool for remembering information, not for understanding it. As students get older it is important for them to make a distinction between the information they are supposed to memorize and the information they are expected to understand and assimilate. In this sense, relying too much on mnemonics could become a problem and possibly a disservice in high school and college.
Memory is important, but it should not replace reading-comprehension skills. It is also less useful when applied to the study of the humanities. Mnemonic systems that rely on images are also not as common among older students, as it has been proven that children have an easier time associating information to images.
Another huge limitation of mnemonics is time, sometimes the time a students takes to learn the mnemonic system will not be worth spending on the information they are trying to learn.
The relationship between memory and technology
Just like technology can help students become more engaged in what they study, it can also improve their memory. Mnemonics can easily be applied to E-learning and M-learning, starting with visual mnemonics. Visualizing information becomes much easier with a computer screen. Even being able to record a teacher and re-listening their class instead of reading notes can help students memorize information through repetition.
Beyond mnemonics, which are used to remember specific information, the recent success of “brain fitness” technology has the potential to improve our overall memory over time. Apps and videogames designed to exercise our brain and even help with diseases like Alzheimer’s are gaining popularity among people of all ages.
While some studies raise concerns on whether information technologies may be deteriorating our memory by making information available without us needing to remember it, the correct use of these tools can in fact be beneficial to our brain health.
It is important for teachers to be aware of the potential as well as the limitations of these tools before integrating them into their classroom.