I recently read Remembering and Forgetting in the Age of Technology by Michelle D. Miller. Dr. Miller is a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University. While this book is primarily written for higher education faculty, remembering and forgetting are topics that are relevant to everyone.
This topic is especially useful for librarians whose job responsibilities include instruction.
In the book, Dr. Miller covers many important aspects of how the brain stores and retrieves memories. She also addresses research related to how technology impacts our brains’ ability to retain information. I am going to highlight a few key points she makes and discuss how librarians can apply this information.
“The idea that technology degrades cognitive capabilities is a widespread one, but it is not clearly supported by research” (p. 42).
When working with learners in any capacity, we may be under the impression that their brains are different from previous generations due to technology. This is not supported by research. While technology can impact the brain, so does any other activity that requires thought. Therefore, when working with learners do not think that teaching strategies need to be adapted for different brains. Instead, use research-based practices from cognitive psychology to encourage memorization such as retrieval practice and interleaving.
“Digital technologies clearly have extraordinary potential to distract us and thereby disrupt the formation of new memories” (p. 167).
It is also important to note that despite technology not reducing our capabilities, technology can easily distract us. Therefore, as appropriate, think about ways you can limit distractions from technology in your sessions. This could be as simple as making sure your own notifications are shut off so an email message does not pop-up on the screen during the session.
Other ideas include asking attendees to silence their phones and asking attendees to pick up their phone to check for any notifications at certain points throughout the session. Having set times to review notifications can hopefully keep attendees focused when not viewing their technology.
“Experts agree on a core set of features and properties that make some information memorable. These include personal relevance, an emotional charge, connections to prior knowledge, structure and organization” (p. 83).
“…we tend to forget information that is disjointed, lacks meaning, or is disconnected from our immediate goals and aims” (p. 83).
When teaching instruction sessions, find ways to make the content personally relevant to those in attendance and connect the information to previous knowledge the session attendees possess. To find out what is personally relevant and what previous knowledge the group possesses, you can have participants complete a short survey before the class or at the very beginning of the session. If attendees have to register for your session, the survey can be part of the registration process. You can ask questions such as: What are your job responsibilities? What is your experience with using the library? Etc.
Find ways to bring emotions into the session. This can often be done through the telling of personal stories such as having others share how they use the library for their work. Additionally, the structure and organization of content matters. Give attendees an outline of the topics in advance. This can help them see the big picture and develop an internal model of the information.
“Experts agree on several factors that make material easier for students to remember. These include meaning, narrative structure, curiosity and surprise, visualization, emotions associated with the material, attention devoted to the material, and connection to students’ own goals” (p. 129).
This key point is almost a summary of the others. When planning instruction, find ways to make the learning meaningful, tell stories, use visual aids, make content relevant, and find ways to limit distractions in order to encourage learners to focus on the materials.
These are only a few key points from the book. Dr. Miller writes in an approachable manner that keeps the reader’s interest. I hope you take time to dig into the book yourself.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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