Is human memory like computer memory?

Short-Term Memory vs Long-Term Memory

Moving Information to Long-Term Memory

There are many differences, of course, between human memory and a computer’s memory.  But computer memory makes a great analogy for understanding human short-term memory or working memory.

Imagine you are typing a letter or a report in a word processing program, such as Word.  You may type several paragraphs, run spell-check, and insert some pictures.

The work you are doing is temporarily held in the computer’s memory, known as RAM or Random Access Memory. The computer’s processor is controlling how the software program functions and how it interacts with the RAM memory, as long as you continue working in that software program.

But in order to save the letter or report for future use, you must actively save your work to the computer’s hard drive. If you close the software program without saving your work, or if the computer shuts down unexpectedly before you can save your work, everything you typed will cease to exist.

This is what happens to information in our working memory when our selective attention is distracted by some other sensory input and we are unable to complete our processing to transfer the information to our long-term memory.

When our brain is processing new sensory input from our environment, all that information is processed in our short-term memory.  Short-term memory is also referred to as working memory.  If we want to keep that information for future use, we need to transfer it to our long-term memory.

Most people have their favorite techniques for helping that transfer, such as repeating ideas out loud, over and over, to memorize them or listening to a spoken recording of the ideas while driving or even while sleeping.

But the point is that we usually have to make some effort to move the information in our long-term memory.

If we are distracted by another task before we can move the information from our short-term memory and store it in long-term memory, we may only retain bits and pieces or perhaps no memories of it at all.

How can you help your audience move your information to long-term memory?

When you are creating a live presentation, webinar, or video you can help your audience with this memory transfer in a variety of ways.  Here are a few:

  1. Limit the amount a new information you give them all at once
  2. Make your information simple, concrete, and clear to understand
  3. Don’t make your audience read and listen at the same time
  4. Use metaphors and examples to help them tie the new information to what they already know
  5. Use stories, visuals, and emotions to make your message more memorable

Which of these ideas do you incorporate into your presentations and/or videos?  If you don’t use them already, which ideas can you start to implement?  Let me know in the comments below.




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