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Memories are made of this

Using information rather than just passively reading it sharpens the memory and makes it easier to recall later and the ifs School of Finance outlines techniques that can be used to make the learning process easier

In this month’s Tutor’s Corner, we offer some advice on active learning and useful memory techniques. Although tailored to those studying for the DipFA, the ifs School of Finance’s FSAapproved level four financial adviser qualification, the tips will have relevance to any adult learner wanting to improve their memory techniques.

As children, we often had to learn new ideas by memorising information because we had too little experience
to understand it or put it in a frame of reference.

As adults, we have a wealth of experience on which to draw. This means that as adult learners, we are able to assess new information critically and relate it to our own ideas and experience, making it easier to learn.

The ifs’ DipFA has a heavy focus on case studies and client scenarios similar to those that an adviser will encounter in their work and is specifically designed draw on advisers’ existing knowledge and skills. Its approach focuses not just on the acquisition of more knowledge but emphasises the importance of interpretation, application and appropriate communication to clients.

This reflects precisely what students should be doing on a daily basis in their roles as financial advisers. It also
allows students to demonstrate their capability, building from their experience as advisers, in addition to attaining further technical knowledge.

Trying to memorise information without reference to what you already know is an ineffective learning technique.

Relating information to existing knowledge helps build patterns in your mind that are easier to remember. Using information rather than just
reading it passively creates stronger associations and understanding that makes the information easier to recall later.

  • If this is information you already know, the materials will reinforce your knowledge and skills
  • If the information is new to you, you can relate it to your experience and consider how you could use the information in your job. The new information may explain why certain procedures at work are carried out (for example, a requirement in financial legislation or management concepts)
  • Your new learning may cause you to question previous assumptions you have made and change your ideas

Active learning
A key factor in successful study is using active techniques. Active learning means working with the material rather than trying to absorb
it passively. It can be applied to the way that you read and take notes and the contact you have with your tutor, fellow students and others.

Ask yourself key questions as you study and note down your answers and ideas either in the materials or on a separate pad. This help you create pathways in your mind that make recall easier.

Our minds are powerful tools and if we convince ourselves we will not be able to remember something, we probably won’t’

Questions to consider are:

  • How does this concept or theory compare with others I have studied?
  • What examples from my own experience illustrate this point?
  • Do I agree with the point being made?
  • What are the key points from this paragraph or section and how do they build on the argument put forward in the previous paragraph or section?

When you have studied the section, take a break and then read your notes. Do they make sense? Can they be improved, for example, by underlining or colour coding? Write a list of key points. You could make your own glossary of terms and quick notes on postcards.

Using this information to learn actively
We can apply these concepts about memory to the process of studying effectively. Again, the key is to use active learning techniques rather
than trying passively to memorise information.

Our minds are powerful tools and if we convince ourselves we will not be able to remember something, we probably won’t. If you do not feel confident about study, monitor your progress. You will be pleased at how much you can recall after just one study session. Remember that studying and recalling gets easier with practice. If it has been a few years since you last studied in the formal sense, think of all the other activities you have learned.

Tips for making the best use of your time You can make good use of even small amounts of time to revise and review your studies.

For example:

  • Write key points on postcards and carry them in your pocket or bag so you can review them quickly. Time spent in a queue or waiting for a meeting to start can be useful revision time
  • Use post-it notes to write down the main points of theories. These can be stuck onto walls or pieces of paper to form diagrams of similar and contrasting ideas. When you have some time, review the main points
  • Create your own memory joggers such as mnemonics and pictures and stick them somewhere you will see them every day, for example, the fridge door or bathroom mirror
  • List business examples of the concepts and theories you are studying and keep them on your desk to browse through in your lunch break
  • Make yourself lists of questions so you can practise recalling facts and figures
  • Create your own glossary of terms, products and concepts to review
  • Note down questions you want to ask your tutor or more experienced colleagues
  • Record descriptions of key concepts and theories in your own words so that you can play them in your car or through headphones as you travel

Developing your memory
Scientists believe that our brains store nearly all the information and events that we encounter but it often does not feel like that. We have all experienced the feeling of knowing something but not quite being able to find the word, number, image or name. It is the same with learning new skills – we want to remember the frameworks, theories, processes, details of a particular example, etc, and how to apply them but sometimes it is difficult to recall the information.

Effective study must therefore concentrate on developing quick recall of the knowledge and skills that are stored. Finally, you may find it useful to remember that it is generally easier to recall things that:

  • Are used frequently – recall is easier if the pathway to the information is well worn, that is, if there are strong brain patterns associated with recalling the information. These strong patterns are created by repeated recall
  • Are significant to you or stand out as being unusual, for example, it is easy to recall details of the time your car broke down
  • Are linked to other items in memory – we do not hold all our stored information in the front of our mind, ready for immediate use. Much of it is stored in the back of our mind. Links mean that we can retrieve it more easily
  • Happened recently, for example, it is easier to remember what happened yesterday than what happened last week (unless the event was unusual)
  • Happened at the beginning or the end of an event such as the start and end of a movie and the beginning and end of a conversation are all easier to remember than what happened in the middle.
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