As they say, “knowledge is power”. And being knowledgeable undoubtedly comes through learning. A new study explains how best to learn and retain the knowledge in your memory for a long period of time. HAUWA MAHMUD KOLO writes.
Ever been confronted with a topic or an argument you had earlier learnt but found it hard to drive your point home because you couldn’t recall what you had learnt?
Well, this could be as a result of your cramming, rather than studying it in the first place. Scientists and educators alike say that cramming is not an effective way to remember things. With their findings, researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, have elucidated the neurological mechanism explaining why this is so.
According to a publication in the Journal of Neuroscience, results suggest that protein synthesis in the cerebellum plays a key role in memory consolidation, shedding light on the fundamental neurological processes governing how humans and animals remember.
The researchers found that the long-term effects of learning are strongly dependent on whether training is performed all at once within a short period (massed training), or in spaced intervals (spaced training). The knowledge received in massed training disappeared within 24 hours, while that received in spaced training was sustained longer.
To clarify this mechanism, the researchers developed a technique based on the phenomenon of horizontal optikinetic response (HOKR), a compensatory eye movement which can be used to quantify the effects of learning.
Earlier research suggested that this spacing effect is the product of the transfer of memory trace from the flocculus, a cerebella cortex region which connects to motor nuclei involved in eye movement, to another brain region known as the vestibular nuclei.
To verify this idea, the team administered local anesthetic to the floccules and studied its effect on learning. While learning gains in those who had undergone one hour of massed training were eliminated, those that had undergone the same amount of training spaced out over a four hour period were unaffected.
The final discovery suggests that proteins produced during training, play a key role in the formation of long-term memories, providing for the first time a neurological explanation for the well-known benefits of spaced learning, as well as a great excuse to take more breaks.
According to an Abuja-based neurosurgeon, Dr. Biodun Ogungbo, cramming is not the best way to study. “The best way to study is through recitation and repetition, which allows the brain time to register the information in the memory banks. In cramming, there is no repitition so whatever gets into the brain isn’t stored in the memory bank, it is only superficial.
“It is always good to study over time, because it eventually becomes indelible,” Ogungbo explains.
Educationists in Nigeria have also confirmed the study. According to Mr. Davou Pam, a Physics teacher in School for the Gifted, Gwagwalada, Abuja, cramming isn’t a good method of learning because anything that is crammed is not retained for long in the brain.
He explains, “Cramming is never advisable as it is much better to take your time to understand what you are being taught. When you cram something, it doesn’t stay long in the brain and it eventually becomes as good as not learning it.
“On the contrary, when you take your time to understand something, it becomes a part of you. Some students are of the impression that subjects like mathematics and physics have to be crammed, but we try to make them understand that it is wrong to have such an impression. For instance, I am able to teach my students some things I learnt while in secondary school, even without opening a textbook. If I had crammed it, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
“Regarding formulas and laws, it is always advisable for students to understand them before cramming them. That way, even when the crammed aspect disappears and they can’t state the law perfectly, they can still explain what they understood from it,” Pam explains.
Another educationist, Jiya Moses, explained that students who cram often forget what they’ve crammed as soon as they finish writing exams. “Whenever a student crams to write his/her exams, once he/she is done writing the exams, everything escapes from his/her memory. This is why you find that some students fail beginning of term tests, which are an assessment of the last term’s work which they had crammed. But a student who studies a topic and understands it can recall it any day, anytime, and not just during tests or exams,” Moses said.