Learning and Mnemonomics

While at work, I am slowly reading Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment, the report published by the National Academy Press. The chapter on “Advances in the Sciences of Thinking and Learning” speaks of the fundamental components of cognition as being working memory and long-term memory. The following quote caught my attention:

Unlike working memory, long-term memory is, for all practical purposes, an effectively limitless store of information. It therefore makes sense to try to move the burden of problem solving from working to long-term memory. What matters most in learning situations is not the capacity of working memory–although that is a factor in speed of processing–but how well one can evoke the knowledge stored in long-term memory and use it to reason efficiently about information and problems in the present.

Thinking in terms of how our memory is extended by technologies of communication–books, libraries, the internet, social networking–this quote suggests that learning is not just a matter of how we access our personal long-term memory but also a matter of how we access our culture’s memory, as stored in these various media. How can we tap the long-term memory of this vast, mnemonic prosthetic and use it to solve problems in the present?

This also invokes Ulmer’s concept of “emeragency” which puts problem-solving and policy issues at the center of a “humanities of pragmatics.” The technologically enhanced human brain is truly a “limitless store of information.” As such, our primary problem as individuals in the 21st century–and as educators of students who need the information literacy skills to navigate this limitless store of information–is to develop methods for managing this huge palace of memory: the birth of mnemonomics.


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