How Learning Works
Learning and Memory
So how is learning intertwined with our memories?
Memory is essential to all learning because it lets you store and retrieve the information that you learn. Memory is the record left by a learning process. For example, you learn a new language by studying it, but you then speak it by using your memory to retrieve the words that you learned!
We learn and remember, we think new thoughts, or we visualize new images, and we change throughout our lifetimes. Whenever our neural networks change as a result of new information being stored, our behavior also changes.
Our brains respond to the same experiences differently at different ages in our lives and especially during early development. So the same experience we have as an infant that effects our brain, might cause a different effect when we experience it in adolescence and beyond.
Prenatal events can influence our brain plasticity throughout life.
Prenatal experiences alter our brain organization. Potentially negative experiences (i.e. prenatal exposure to recreational drugs) and positive experiences (i.e. tactile stimulation of the mother's skin), can alter our gene expression or produce other effects on brain organization.
The brain of a newborn is constantly being flooded with information. Over the first few years of life the brain grows rapidly and as each neuron matures it sends out multiple branches (axons) which increases the number of synaptic contacts. As we get older the old connections are deleted in a process called "synaptic pruning". This means that the old memories that we no longer frequently use become weaker and weaker until they are pruned and eliminated. The memories and connections that we actively and most frequently use become strengthened and preserved.
Like in the movie Inside Out when Joy and Sadness find Bing Bong (Riley's old imaginary friend) who accidentally ends up in the Memory Dump: the place where old memories are discarded to make way for new ones (aka Synaptic Pruning at work). If we don't use a memory or something we've learned enough, our brain decides it's not important and gets rid of it to make room for new information.
How do we make memories?
There are different types of memory.
Memory is learning that has persisted over time. It is information that has been stored and that can be recalled
Memory can be accessed through three different ways:
This is why repetition and practice are essential for us to learn something new. Reading about something one time doesn't mean we know it and will remember it. We have to put in work to keep information in our long term memory so that we can actively call on the information we learned when ever we want!
Liz Molina M.S. CCC-SLP