Memorization: The Foundation of Learning


In the process of acquiring knowledge, one wants to retain the old learning while continue to gain new. Memorization is a primary tool of learning and acts as a catalyst for not only producing good results in the examination but in various other aspects of learning. It challenges your brain to remember more, offers a mental gymnastic exercise and helps students to practice focus by enhancing concentration. It improves neural plasticity i.e. the ability of the brain to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Memory includes maintenance of internal mental records by the brain that give us instant access to our personal past, facts, skills and ideas that we have cultivated. This is called memory whereas learning is the capability of modifying information that is already stored in the memory, based on new input or experience. Learning is an active process that involves sensory input to the brain, which occurs automatically.

Involvement of Brain in Memory and Learning

Learning of skills, behaviour and habits are without conscious effort and they are less likely to be forgotten once learned. This type of memory is known as implicit memory. On the other hand learning of facts and events is done through conscious effort and are easily forgettable. Such type of memory is called explicit memory which is of two types: short term memory and long term memory or permanent memory. The hippocampus area in the cerebrum of the brain helps to convert short term memory to permanent memory by consolidation process. There are three primary stages to carry out this process in the brain.

Encoding – During this process, information is sent to the brain where it is dissected and translated to a specified neural code.

Storage – During this process, the brain retains encoded data over an extended period of time as a permanent memory.

Retrieval – During this process, the old information is brought back to working memory that can be mentally manipulated for usage.

The consolidation is operated in the brain during retention in which the information is first gathered by sensory organs and then this sensory information is converted to short term memory and subsequently to long term memory by paying enough attention by the individual.

The two important subtypes of sensory memory are – Echoic and Iconic memory. The echoic is related to auditory information that lasts for four seconds whereas iconic is related to visuals and lasts for 0.3 seconds; but these are more prominent signals and preserve more information as compared to echoic. That is why the students learn quickly when they are shown visuals.

How to carry out memorization

Memorization is a cognitive skill which is acquired with the desire to improve your ability to recall the information of interest. Information can be memorised by means of rote learning or using memory tricks such as mnemonics.

Rote Learning is still important

Rote learning comprises the fixing of memory by means of frequent repetition. It is considered to be the easiest, rapid and most efficient way to instil foundational knowledge. This activates the hippocampus area of the brain which is a key structure in the brain for episodic and spatial memory. The true purpose of rote memorisation is to create automaticity. For example, when a child sees a letter or group of letters, he automatically says the sound. The child does not have to think about it. Students who just know equations, functions, definitions and other memorised facts can save brain power. If foundational concepts and information are grasped, students can move on to bigger and better things, rather than spending time looking up words, functions and operations. There is no substitute for rote memorization in learning facts in arithmetic. Students have to memorize periodic tables, symbols of elements and formula; otherwise they will miss out the deeper understanding of the subject of chemistry. When a child memorizes beautiful language and well constructed lines, that knowledge will stay with him for the rest of his life. It will become part of his permanent memory that he can draw up on in times of difficulty.

The more the memorization, the more will be retention, understanding and analysis.

The art of memorizing difficult information by setting up code for the information is referred to as mnemonics. The three fundamental principals underlying the use of mnemonics are imagination, association and location. Through this technique the student creates an image in front of his eyes to remember a thing which is associated with the learning material. Do you remember MVEMJSUN which expands to the sentence ‘My Very Efficient Mom Just Served Us Noodles’, here the first letter of each word is associated with the name of a planet in the solar system. If the shapes of countries in the map are associated with the objects or things, it is easy to remember their location in map, e.g. the shape of Italy is like a lady’s boot.

Students can remember the height of Mt. Fujiyama 12,365 feet by associating it with calendar (12 months and 365 days in a year).

The method is even helpful to remember speeches and poems. Here the technique uses linking – imaginary-pictures. In the speech, each thought is associated with imaginary picture which the brain creates on the basis of perception brought about by sense organs. This imagination is between perception and thought.

The mind never thinks without a mental picture and visualization makes learning ten times faster.

Ways to Enhance Memory

  • Engaging in purposeful and meaningful activities stimulates your neurological system and counters the effects of stress related diseases, reduces the risk of diseases and enhances good health. For effective consolidation of information into memory storage, take frequent breaks and do not study for more than four hours at a stretch. Eat food rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin K and antioxidants to provide supplements to brain cells.
  • Playing videogames challenges your brain with new surprising information. So have fun while building a bigger brain.
  • Better memory comes with good observation and internal motivation. Take notes as you read. Make use of all five sense organs while learning. Start relying on your own memory rather than technology.
  • The students’ power of visualization can be enhanced by exposing them to different types of pictures, animations, encouraging them to draw, and visiting different places.
  • Use of mind maps is a useful tool for revising and organizing information and one can remember vast quantities of information through mind maps. It provides the user with his own personal tree of knowledge on a subject of his choice.
  • Encourage students to share what they have learned from others. Merely by doing so, they will learn in a better way and absorb the skills with great depth.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep is most important for memory retrieval.

This is how learning and memorization are associated with each other. If we don’t work with memorisation in early stages of schooling, the desired learning will not occur in life.

Rashmi Prabha is Vice Principal in St. Kabir’s School, Hisar, Haryana and is currently teaching biology to senior classes. She obtained masters degree in biotechnology from M.S University, Baroda. She has great passion for environment and engages in projects and activities on environment awareness and conservation involving students, teachers and parents. She is an online teacher and faculty in Lund University for evaluating Global Young Master’s Programme on Sustainable Development. She conducts classes for students to make them aware about their responsibilities and social challenges. Various organisations have honoured her for making outstanding contribution to education. She received the Derozio Award from CISCE, The Educationist Of the Year Award (twice) from Silver Zone Foundation, The Best Teacher Award from Bharat Vikas Parishad, Mahilla Jyoti Award from Integrated Council for Socio Economic Progress and Paryavaran Puraskar from Paryavaran Mitra Organisation associated with Ministry of Environment Education. She writes on a wide range of topics and her articles are published regularly.