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The problem of forgetting in learning

  1. May 18, 2012 #1
    If you would like to maximize efficiency in your time spent learning things, what is the best way to select the knowledge that you learn so that it's not forgotten?

    It seems like with the traditional college/high school way of just carpet bombing everything not much sticks so wouldn't it be more efficient to learn a different way?

    My goals require me to be efficient as possible with my time and I have much to learn. Any discussion or book recommendations would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2012 #2


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    Hey PairofDimes.

    One thing I should point out first off is that you are human and not a machine so you will not always function at your 'peak effeciency' and you will get angry, upset, bored, un-motivated and you will have times where you will absolutely hate seeing things that you once were inspired by and it's important to know that it is ok to go through this.

    The other thing is that you won't really be able to value everything you learn until much later in life for many things and if this is not considered, then you will be trying to find meaning in everything without letting things take their natural course.

    Also you'll find that a lot of what you actually learn is not planned. When you talk to someone, pick up a book, read the news, follow up a topic from a blog or forum post or do something that you did not anticipate in any kind of likelihood before-hand, you will learn things that you never really 'intended' or 'planned' for and this is good for a number of reasons.

    If you have specific goals for learning specific things, then that's great because being organized about your goals is great for achieving specific things which is a lot better than trying to do everything and not getting anything at all done. If this is related to coursework, then you are better off speaking to your teachers and so as they will provide most of the guidance.

    The final thing that I want to emphasize about learning is that you also learn a lot when you interact with other people. The medium in which you do that will have its advantages and disadvantages with respect to other mediums, but as long as there is a medium and it provides the ground for some interaction, then you will be able to teach and learn.

    Getting involved in discussions whether other people are looking for answers, you are looking for answers, or both are looking for answers is a good way to learn what you 'thought' you knew but realized you didn't (at least not completely or in as much detail as afterwards).

    Also to deepen your depth and breadth of your working knowledge you will have to practise these things in some way. This often combines some kind of mixture of thinking about something, doing something, discussing something with others, reading what others have to say, reading textbooks, and all that kind of thing.

    There are things that are associated with say increasing memory and training yourself to become better at specific cognitive tasks, but if you want to become really good at something, you really have to expend your energy on it.

    Also it's a good idea to try and learn from others by using empathy. The empathy works when you read what other people have done or when you hear them and then you can imagine putting yourself in their shoes and learn almost as if you were them living their experience.

    The other thing as well is to observe: if you are narrow in your observation, then you will miss a lot of what is going on right in front of you. This is often the difference between people: we all observe different things even though a lot of the time, we are all capable of seeing the same things if we focus on them and become aware of them. You obviously won't be able to focus on absolutely everything, but if you become aware of when your focus is too narrow, then that is an indicator that you should stop and step-back for a moment to think about taking more into the picture.
  4. May 18, 2012 #3
    I just found this little article that would lead to the obvious advice that you should avoid sugar and get some fish oil:
  5. May 22, 2012 #4
    A huge part of learning, according to my 1st year psychology class, was memory recall (literally recalling the information, or in other words, retrieving the information and telling it to yourself actively).

    While this seems like a bit of an arduous (though effective) chore when studying for an exam, I imagine memory recall is actually done anytime one is actively thinking about a particular topic in depth and detail, even throughout the course of a day. This is arguably why we tend to remember details of things we have an interest in, as we think about them all the time, and thus perform memory recall at some level while we compare and contrast the given information, make links between facts, perceive patterns, etc.

    The problem with traditional schooling, I find, is that much of what is taught doesn't necessarily coincide with when we are interested in them, assuming the topic in question is even something that we would be interested in at some point (which is, in itself, partly dependent on the order in which we learn things, in addition to our own aptitudes). Schooling is also generally high in volume, and relatively fast paced in some regards, so one cannot really learn to appreciate any topics for what they are, especially with the threat of exams looming.

    So basically, school becomes a game of absorbing the information just long enough to be able to regurgitate it on the exam. One can then (and often does) forget the details of what was learned, quite quickly in fact. This happens even if you don't want it to, because you quickly have new material to worry about. Nothing has a chance to really "sink in" because you simply don't have the time to let it. Too much quantity, with too little time for quality analysis and thought.

    I realize that in many lines of study, you build upon what was previously learned, so what I am arguing here seems to not make much sense in that regard. However, how often have you, despite being able to do later coursework, somewhat forgotten the basis of what got you there in the first place? I would argue that either things went by too quickly, with too many distractions and too much emphasis on grades, and/or you just have difficulty with the material for whatever reason, which is another issue altogether.
    Last edited: May 22, 2012
  6. May 22, 2012 #5
    AND, you get yourself in debt for years for the privilege of forgetting all that information. Life is amazing.
  7. May 23, 2012 #6
    The problem of forgetting after learning is common in may schools and colleges students. This happen due to lack of practice or lack of concepts, group discussion with friends and through making the concept clear help students to remember the lessons.
  8. May 23, 2012 #7
    I used to think, if I have good grasp of concept, I won't forget the thing.
    This don't work with me. I forget the whole concept at which I had very good understanding in the past. So, these days, I write down those things,in my dairy, in my own words. This I do as soon I have to read and UNDERSTAND the same thing twice.
  9. May 23, 2012 #8
    At least forgetting is better than having never learned. When you forget things, you can pick them up later very quickly. You don't have to start from scratch.
  10. May 23, 2012 #9
    I agree.
  11. May 23, 2012 #10
    Use it, do it, relatively frequently/regularly.
  12. May 23, 2012 #11
    I remember some quote by some smart dude along the lines of,

    "Education is what remains after all that was learned in school is forgotten."

    I took accounting. I don't know the particulars of accounting, that's for the textbooks. But I do know the intent / theory. And with that, I can intuitively determine, fairly accurately proper presentation of "complicated" transactions, by working my way through the "logic/theory" of financial reporting.
  13. May 23, 2012 #12
    I'm going to, straight off the bat, say that I think a lot of these techniques and things that psychologists will tell you about are rubbish in my opinion.

    You learn through understanding concepts, you don't learn through memorising facts.
  14. May 25, 2012 #13
    lol, facts aren't concepts. How do you learn concepts?
  15. May 25, 2012 #14
    The amount of information the human brain can contain is finite. If you want to learn something, expose yourself to it frequently. Otherwise you're going to forget it.
  16. May 25, 2012 #15
    Like riding a bike?
  17. May 25, 2012 #16
    I think you learn through both. How are concepts formed? Via facts, I think.

    Anyway, to reiterate what I said in a previous post, in order to develop and retain any particular ability, I think it's necessary to just do it regularly and frequently. There's no mystery associated with this, imo.
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