Why you should follow the links….
You’ve sat down to use Get My Grades to learn about a specific topic e.g. Hormones and so you decide to start with ‘adrenaline’, but then you see a link to learn more about ‘the brain’ so you follow it. And from there you’re linked to ‘neurons’ etc. And now you’re feeling guilty like you’ve wasted your time as you got distracted from your original topic – but what you’ve actually done is to elaborate your knowledge of adrenaline and make links between concepts in biology.
Making these links really helps with remembering. Why might this be? Consider what memory is at a very basic level; memories are the connections between a pattern of neurons. The idea that memories are stored as the strength of the connections between different neurons is common across a wide range of computational models of memory (e.g. McLelland, McNaughton and O’Reilly, 1995; O’Reilly and Frank, 2004; McLaren, Forrest and McLaren, 2012). Each memory causes a pattern of neurons to fire (turn on). When you link ideas together you create a bigger memory (or more links between neurons). Now accessing one part of the memory will allow you to bring the whole idea to mind. This is a common everyday experience. Try and remember what you did for your last birthday – once you get one detail (which may take you a moment) the others come much more readily as this one detail triggers the rest of the memory.
Elaboration can take many different forms. As discussed above, this can be following through a chain of topics and linking the ideas together. It can also involve going into more detail- which is why Get My Grades doesn’t just give you the information that is on the syllabus but often goes into more depth. Asking and answering why things are the way they are. This form of elaboration has been shown to improve memory (McDaniel & Donnelly, 1996).
Or elaboration can involve relating the ideas you are trying to learn to your everyday life – in other words coming up with concrete examples. Concrete examples have been shown to help but only if they are given with a good definition (Rawson, Thomas & Jacoby, 2015)Some tips on how to use elaboration as a revision technique are included on this blog.
So don’t be afraid to follow your curiosity… learning more details about a topic or linking topics together is never a bad thing!
McLaren, I. P., Forrest, C. L., & McLaren, R. P. (2012). Elemental representation and configural mappings: Combining elemental and configural theories of associative learning. Learning & Behavior, 40(3), 320-333.
McLelland, J.L., McNaughton, B.L. & O’Reilly, R.C. (1995). Why There Are Complementary Learning Systems in the Hippocampus and Neocortex: Insights From the Successes and Failures of Connectionist Models of Learning and Memory. Psychological Review, 102, (3), 419-457.