Thursday, January 31, 2013

Brain and Memory with Arthur Kohn #astdtk13

These are my liveblogged notes from a concurrent session with Arthur Kohn. I'm at the ASTD Tech Knowledge 2013 Conference kicking off today January 29, 2013 in San Jose, California. Apologies for typos and incoherence.

Brain and Memory: Seven Tips that Improve E-Learning
Arthur Kohn, PhD
Fulbright Professor of Cognitive Science

He starts us off with a memory test.  He gives us 15 words in turn and then after he's said them all, we write them down in any order:

(I remembered 12 out of 15 of them!)

Primacy effect: the word that come first we remembered the most - it was the most rehearsed.
The word cotton -- most recently said was also remembered. The words in the middle were not as well remembered...

We are organic machines.

You would think you encode a word. But what you encode in your brain is a representation of that word or connotations you have with that word. (e.g., if you heard the word switch, you have may have remembered the word light as a connotation of switch).

There is no difference, biochemically, between a true memory and an implanted memory. It is incredibly easy to implant memories in people's minds.

The constructed nature of memory.

1. Memory is Constructive. Our brains often invent our memories in creative ways.


Take control over the content that you want your students to learn. Here are 40 facts you need to remember. As a teacher, that's your fault when the student doesn't remember, not the student's.

Skinner: "if the pidgeon fails to behave like I think they will, the pidgeon is right and I'm wrong."

How do we educate uneducated,

Create context around random letters (he shows us FB INB AAN DIB MHI PPAO SHA and asks us to remember that. Much easier to remember if you see it as FBI NBA AND IBM HIPPA OSHA).

"Chunking" - we can hold 7 independent facts, plus or minus two. But if I can enrich that content by combining things we can remember a lot more! The brain wants things chunked into whole stories.

2. Memory limits can be expanded.  The carrying capacity of memory can be expanded if you provide enriched content


So what makes some information and some memories stick better than others?

The brain is not best compared to a computer. It's a machine that helps us survive. It tries to tell stories to make sense of our environment.

As trainers, it's simple stuff that makes it easier.  Start with a rhetorical question "What do you feel is the best way to deal with a difficult person?" By challenging people to fill in the gaps -- they will remember better. This is so simple!

3. Memory can be unlimited. New information needs to be wrapped within meaningful shells.


Video has more carrying capacity then text -- 100 words with lilt and tone and a face -- more richness than text. Create a world where human beings talk to each other.

Synchronized transcript that you can review and highlight.

Add rich context, emotionally laden, and interactive.

How does visual information pass through your brain? Info that passes through left visual field goes to right brain; info through right visual field goes to left brain.

Left side of brain processes language
Right side of brain processes emotion

4. Memory is emotional. the brain attaches both cognitive and emotional tags to information.

Your training will be more effective if you are unembarrassed about including emotion.  Discussing love life is more interesting than talking about hair net. So how can you pull in training about hair nets to include your love life?

We've got to give dignity to the content and the learners by developing engaging and meaningful content. Weave in every lesson you can using emotion -- it will stick for a much longer time.


Recall is profoundly different with the addition of a contextual image.  He divides us into two groups and has half the group close their eyes while he shows the other group a picture. Then he describes a procedure. It makes no sense to the group who did not see the picture. Group 2 got it because they saw the picture. (It was about laundry).  Group 1 didn't know where they were going -- when he showed us all the picture, group 1 said "Ohhh..." (why didn't you tell me that...

If you tell people where they are going ahead of time, you make a profound difference in recall.

5. Context increases memory

6. Levels of processing affects memory. Author your materials in a way that forces learners to engage with the material in a deep and personal way.

He asked us to look at a series of corporate logos.  Half of us wrote down whether we thought it was a good or bad company (making it emotional); the other half were asked to evaluate the letters in the logos.  THEN later he asks us to rmember teh logos (which was not our original task). Those who made an emotional evaluated remembered more logos.


The forgetting curve (Ebbinghaus)
Within 20 minutes you've lost 20%, within two hours you've lost 70%

Encoding information vs. retrieving information

  • encoding = taking knowledge and encoding it into the brain
  • retrieving = bringing it back out

Both need to be practiced.  If you encoded a book two weeks and now for the exam you re-read the book -- you're practicing the encoding part. But you're not practicing the retrieving part.

Forgetting is not the failure of memory. forgetting is a process that the brain uses to reduce the amount of knowledge it has to maintain. The brain purges a LOT of info that it thinks is unimportant.

So how do you tell the brain that something is important? How do you tag it?

what specific events do you give to a person following training to make that training stick?

  • Reinforcement - quizzing
  • Depth of processing
  • Generative retrievals
  • Social elaboration
  • Coaching
Give a student a lesson.  Two days later give them a quiz ('according to the instructor, what was the most important first step). After two days ask them to retrieve critical information. It gives them the opp to practice retrieving it.

Touch 3 times (2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months)

The 2 day touch is fact based -- recall facts

After 2 weeks build in elaborative recall. Now ask them -- "Hey, according to that lecture on XXX how can you imagine using that info in our organization?" Then the student gives a written response. So his ideas get fed into a social learning environment.

2 month touch -- ask that same person -- "can you give us examples of how you've used this in your organization?" (so here's the return on investments, here's your Kirkpatrick...)

No one learns from a single pass. Even if it's outstanding training, no one learns in a single pass. Find every way you can to give people the opportunity to recall your information. You'll be cueing their brain to remember this info -- that it's salient.

The forgetting curve is brutal.

Get this and you can convince your organization to touch the learner - 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months.  

7. Booster Training (don't forget the forgetting curve!)


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