Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change

Long-term Memory

Factor Connections

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Long-term Memory allows learners to store information, such as words, facts, events, or concepts, and retrieve and make use of this information at a later time (e.g., hours, months, decades, later). It plays an essential role in cognitive development, as learners gradually accumulate skills and Background Knowledge in their Long-term Memory and become better equipped to learn and solve problems. Different parts of the brain support the development of Long-term Memory throughout development and adolescence. As memories form across experiences, they strengthen connections in the brain and these new connections stay as long as they remain in use.

Main Ideas

The process of moving memories from Short-term Memory into Long-term Memory is called encoding, which is key to learning and often occurs naturally, but can be supported through a number of memorization strategies. Sleep also plays an influential role in encoding memories. Students with ADHD may show deficits in long-term memory due to disruption in the process of encoding. Once memories are encoded in Long-term Memory, the process of retrieval allows for access to the stored information. However, sometimes information stored in Long-term Memory cannot be retrieved (i.e., forgetting) which can happen for a number of reasons, including a lack of context cues (cues in the environment), because information was not encoded appropriately, or because new, related information interferes with the ability to remember old information (and vice versa).

The types of memories in our Long-term Memory can be categorized as:

  • Explicit (Declarative) Long-term Memory stores the memories that can be consciously retrieved and can be further broken down into two types:
    • Episodic Memory stores specific episodes, or events, in time, including when it happened and where (e.g., what we did yesterday). Students with dyslexia often have difficulty with verbal and visual-spatial episodic memory, although further research is needed to understand the brain function behind the difficulty. Episodic memory continues to develop in adolescence. Episodic memories formed during adolescence and early adulthood are easier to recall than those formed at other developmental stages.
    • Semantic Memory stores knowledge of general facts (e.g., Tokyo is in Japan). Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty encoding mathematical facts to Long-term Memory, though the specific reason is still being examined.
  • Implicit (Nondeclarative) Long-term Memory stores memories that do not require conscious thought or retrieval, including Emotion. Procedural Memory is a type of implicit memory that supports a cognitive or motor procedure or sequence of events (e.g., how to ride a bike, or read). Students who have dyscalculia typically have difficulty with procedural memory as it relates to visual-spatial concepts.

Schemas (also called schemata) are organizational systems for information in our Long-term Memory, that provide a framework upon which to add incoming knowledge to support interpretation and integration with existing Background Knowledge. Schemata support conceptual learning via complementary processes of Assimilation, adding new information to existing schema and Accomodation, altering or creating new schema to process new information or experiences. Every student brings a wealth of diverse and unique Background Knowledge and therefore have different schemata with which they organize knowledge. What “makes sense” to some students might not “make sense” to others. Therefore, it is important to check in with and consider learners' Background Knowledge to understand how to meet learners' needs and best support long term retention and learning.

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