There are 2 main types of memory that we need to consider: ‘Working Memory’ (WM) and ‘Long Term Memory’ (LTM).
‘Working Memory’ is a bit like a workspace, it’s the part of your brain that allows you to manipulate your ideas. It is used for holding things you are thinking about in your memory at any one point in time and probably only has capacity for 5 ‘chunks’ of information. A chunk could be a well understood concept, or the chunk could be as simple as a short sequence of letters or numbers, or even just a single unfamiliar symbol. Attention determines what 5 ‘chunks’ you are processing at any given moment in time.
The chunk is something that your brain can clearly define to itself, relating to a set of sensory or memory information. Remember – the more familiar the concept is, the more information can be held in a single chunk. If information is very unfamiliar then your brain will find it hard to store even small amounts of information as it will have to store a set of basic sensory inputs.
Long Term Memory
Long Term Memory is potentially infinite in capacity and represents a complex network of brain cells. The connections between them and their relative strengths reflect concepts that we have remembered.
Long Term Memory has to be very carefully organised; we currently think this is a hierarchical network of linked concepts called schemata. At a very basic level, there are individual cells that code for very simple pieces of information, such as vertical or horizontal lines, or a feeling of fear. Then there are other, higher levels of association to represent ever more complex concepts such as letters (which are represented as sets of geometric shapes) or words (sets of letters and their constituent parts, associated with a sound and other semantic meaning) and then ever more complex, composite abstract concepts with ever more complex and broad meanings.
Hopefully this has helped you understand what the difference between working memory and long term memory, and how they affect how you recall the information you learn! Next week we’ll be looking at the Schema Theory and Integration. See you then!
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