What do your moods, behaviours, motivation, memories, and emotions have in common?
These are processed in the same brain region called the limbic system! The word limbic means on the border, here describing the border of the cerebral cortex; the characteristically ‘iconic’ portion of the brain.
Part of the limbic system which is specifically important for learning and memory is called the hippocampus.
On the topic of learning and memory…
I took two gap years after matric. By the time I began my undergraduate degree (after being situated in the role of an active worker and a passive student) I had completely lost touch with how I preferred to consume knowledge. If I travelled back in time (and I absolutely can time-travel, of course. I simply choose not to), I would begin by prompting my younger self with three reflective questions:
- What kind of learner am I?
I now know that I learn best through a multi-modal approach – combining note taking; watching videos; listening to lectures; reading books; drawing images; touching structures; practicing techniques; using colourful pens… Understanding the mode in which you best absorb specific information is a very important first step.
- Where do my interests lie?
Interest-based learning is a tactic that appreciates how easily our minds take in information that feels relevant to us, and relatable to our lives. Studying is about more than simply remembering information for a test. It’s about gaining understanding and feeling excited about what you can learn! Curiosity and intrigue will encourage you to get through your coursework effortlessly.
- How do I want to engage with what I learn?
Perhaps it’s a consequence of studying the microscopic world of proteins and ion exchange and cellular interaction, but keeping the bigger picture in mind can be a flaw in my learning process. I combat this using mind-maps. The brain often harnesses association and imagery to improve memory retention and recall. By drawing a mind-map, I connect specific concepts to areas on an A3 page and can emphasize this with drawings or bold mnemonics that remind me of the central theme.
The RSVP to active learnership promises a perpetual feast on an intellectual snack platter; a byte-size buffet of your selection.
However, if the intention is not only to absorb and regurgitate knowledge, but to take a bite; taste it; experience the textures… flavours… and say “I don’t like this” or “Oooh, yummy, I would eat that again”, then the takeaway tips to all students everywhere are these:
- Become that ‘first row’ student.
Dissolve the idea that you need to maintain a coolness factor by not participating in your own acquisition of knowledge. There is no shame in asking questions. It’s cool to pay attention.
2. Learn by both listening and teaching.
Good learning techniques start with acute listening skills. By explaining to someone what you have learned, and allowing them the chance to ask questions, you will see knowledge gaps in your description or think about how you could better understand the information you are sharing. Do not harbour knowledge for yourself.
3. Think critically about the source of your information.
There are both implicit and explicit bias in every bit of knowledge you gain and share. Are you learning about the history of South Africa through a book written by a privileged, older man with high socio-economic status? Are you being told that homosexuality is a sin by a theology lecturer? Are you checking multiple sources before you decide “Yes! This is objectively true!”?
4. Have a plan and plan to take breaks!
Consistency is my key to maximizing memorability and motivation, while avoiding overwhelm and burnout. Detailing a study plan helps me hold myself accountable to realistic daily targets. My plan often includes studying across topics, like a study trifle, so that I can keep my interest up and my “information-saturation” down. I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is to plan for rest, too.
5. Repeat steps one to four.
Repetition helps to consolidate short term memory to long term memory.
Since you’ve come to the end of this blog, I wonder if you could teach someone else the answers to these questions:
- What is the role of the hippocampus?
- Where in the brain is it situated?
- What do your moods, behaviours, motivation, memories and emotions have in common?