Would you go to your local hardware store and walk down the paint aisle to buy milk?
Of course you wouldn’t. If you tried, you could spend hours trying to find milk.
When you go to the hardware store, you are usually there to purchase something for repair, renovation or home improvement. You don’t normally go to a hardware store to buy dairy products.
How do you know that you don’t buy cheese, milk and yogurt at the hardware store on the paint aisle? You’ve learned it from experience.
Learning = Memory
So, how do you know when someone has learned something?
They pass a test, apply the information to a job or maybe talk about it. The only evidence we have that someone has learned something is their memory.
Learning occurs when our neurons communicate with each other. Meaningful information remains in the brain as neural networks to which additional connections can be added. With more than one hundred billion neurons in our brains, there are ways to access the specific neurons that contain the memory we are trying to retrieve.
Meet The Five Memory Lanes And Their Temporary In-Laws
Just as the hardware store has different aisles for different home improvement products, the brain has at least five memory lanes—automatic, emotional, episodic, procedural and semantic—that can be used for permanent storage of information. These five lanes are used for long-term memory and access different parts of the brain. Two other temporary routes, short-term and working memory—are also part of the process.
The more memory lanes used to store information of an event, the more powerful and long-term the learning will be. It’s like finding milk on several different aisles in the hardware store. It’s unexpected but easy to find.
The challenge for conference organizers is to help facilitate as many of the memory lanes as possible to create rich learning.
Temporary Brain Filing Cabinets
Our brains have different areas for storing permanent (long-term) and temporary memories. Two types of temporary memory are short-term and working memories.
Short-term memories only last for 15 to 30 seconds and can hold seven to ten items at a time. Working memories last for hours and give us the ability to create long-term memories.
One conference objective is to provide learning experiences that move information from short-term to long-term memories. Permanent filing and application of new learning is the goal. Yet most conference experiences are dull information dumps and quickly forgettable. Rarely does the information go from short-term or working memory to long-term memory.
Most Conference Education Equals All Night Cram Sessions
Many people are familiar with cram sessions before an exam. We cram as much information as possible into our minds, repeating things that we think are important. We may write and say aloud facts hundreds of times in an attempt to remember them for a test. Once the test is over, we forget the information as it no longer has any meaning to us.
Repetition may hold that specific information in the working memory long enough to pass an exam. If the information is not meaningful, anchored to prior knowledge or allowed to create a hook within the brain, it is usually disposed of because it did not reach long-term memory.
Cramming information for an exam is similar to attending as many conference education sessions as possible within one day. Some conference goers attend between six- and eight-hours of education without giving any thought to processing the information or trying to connect it to previous learning. We think the more education we can hear in a day the better off we are. This method is effective…for a moment. Heck, even the session smile sheets indicate success.
Unfortunately, that effectiveness is fleeting. Since most of the information is in short-term or working memory, the brain has difficulty processing the information to make new neural connections.
The information is one way, from presenter to attendee without any attendee engagement. Without time to find patterns, apply the new information or connect it to previous learning, the information is forgotten. The experience is typically passive and the five senses left unengaged. And within a matter of minutes, the senses receive a barrage of more information trying to crowd out the working memory.
Cramming as much content as possible into your brain simply does not work. Very little real learning occurs.
Our Memories Make Us Who We Are
We are the sum of our experiences. Without our memories, our very identities are threatened. Providing conference experiences that provide a cranium conduit to multiple memory lanes make those experiences stronger and easier to access.
In subsequent posts, we’ll discuss the five memory lanes and how to create conference experiences that ignite as many of those lanes as possible.
Think of the last conference you attended. What do you remember? What did you learn? What did you apply? Share some of those moments that stuck with you and why you think those experiences were meaningful or memorable.