Category Archives: Live Chat Transcript

Learning and Remembering #2 – Chat Transcript – 16/01/18

ModKathryn: Welcome everyone to this week’s live chat!

Joem: Hi I’m Joe, I was wondering if you could explain the connection between short-term and long-term memory and which is most important for helping students revise for exams?

Lucy: They’re both important really. Students will be retrieving information from long-term memory (ie stuff they’ve learned) in exams but it gets into/out of long-term memory via short-term memory

Jessie: That’s a really interesting question. To lay down more durable long-term memories requires consolidation and integration and relies on the hippocampus. Sleep seems to be important for consolidation and therefore long-term learning.

Yana: I am not sure about picking short-term memory versus long-term memory in terms of which is “more important”, because they each have very important roles to play in learning. I think of short-term memory as mainly to do with attention. If students are not attending to the information they are supposed to be learning, then very little learning (or none) will take place.

Paul: Indeed, our attention and short-term memory work together like filters – new information needs to be “paid attention to” to be encoded long-term, but then we need to focus our attention on the material we want to retrieve in order to successfully retrieve it.

Janet: One way that memories (and the synapses that are active for that memory) can become strengthened is by simultaneously activating other synapses that were simultaneously active at the same time the original experience occurred. This simultaneity means that context may be important for remembering something. Retrieval is important because it reactivates the original set of synapses and can strengthen (again) their ability to work together to recall the information.

Lia – WellcomeTrust: Hi all – the other day I was asked by a teachers what the one thing is that ‘science of learning’ researchers wish teachers knew. Any views?

Yana: I love that question! I can tell you my “one thing”. I wish teachers (and people in general) would all realize that memory is reconstructive. That is, that when we retrieve information from memory, we’re not just grabbing a book from a shelf and reading from it. Instead, we are re-creating the memory, which can add to it and change it! I think it’s important to understand because it opens the pathway to understanding why retrieval practice is so important. That is, simply bringing information to mind (retrieving it) strengthens memories. This is hard to understand unless you are on board with the reconstructive nature of memory

Paul: To me, perhaps it would be that we (so also children) get “cognitively overloaded” by information within the same sensory modality, but presenting complementary and especially redundant information across multiple senses should lead to benefits in learning, not costs.

Jessie: I think my burning bit of information would be that direct instruction is often more effective for learning than allowing pupils to discover things for themselves. I’m particularly thinking of the teaching of phonics and vocabulary, grammar etc.

ModShane: Wow. That seems to be counter to what teachers generally understand. I’m guessing that the nuance is that direct instruction works in certain tasks but not all

Jessie: I guess it depends on existing levels of knowledge but when you are teaching new information or a new system then direct instruction is really important. In the example of teaching how letters relate to sounds you can either teach this directly (phonics) or teach children to read whole words. If you want them to extract the ‘system’ and be able to generalise to a word they’ve never seen then it makes sense to just teach them that system rather than relying on their capacity to work it out for themselves.

Paul: I completely agree with Jessie – even adults can be quite bad at figuring out relationships between different bits of information on their own (especially consciously) – let alone children

Jessie: When you want children (or adults) to learn some kind of systematic relationship (like letter-sound mappings or spelling patterns or grammar) then it seems to be more effective to teach that system along with examples rather than expect children to discover the system for themselves. Teachers do this all the time and it is embedded to some extent in the curriculum but it does seem counter-intuitive to some. In my experience direct instruction is better than discovery. The problem is that we can’t directly teach everything and to the level we’d like (e.g., all vocabulary items for a topic) so we need to also teach strategies for indepdendent learning (e.g. learning new words through reading). There is evidence that our resources to encode information are relatively separate, at especially for vision and hearing. What is found very consistently is that objects – from inanimate physical objects to symbols – are represented in the same areas / networks, largely independent of the sense used for encoding.

Lucy: I’m not sure I want them to know one thing, but to have the tools to evaluate information. So I guess maybe knowing the difference between good and bad evidence for an intervention/product etc. I’m also really interested in what one thing teachers wish ‘science of learning’ researchers knew!

Liz: I couldn’t agree more with Lucy. Knowing how to evaluate when something is “research-backed” or “brain-based”. And definitiely interested in the reverse question too! What should we know?

Lia-Wellcome Trust: Some great answers thanks. What do you think are the most important things teachers should look at when evaluating evidence of interventions/products?

Lucy: I guess the first thing is whether there is any evaluation of it at all. I think that pyramids like those in this blog (with systematic reviews at the top) are a nice and relatively easy to understand way to show how good different forms of evidence are. Here is the link:

Jessie: There are some tips in Dorothy Bishop’s blog:

Jo: My one thing I wish teachers new: if you want to improve someones ability in something (e.g. reading, maths) the best thing to do is practice that thing! not to try and find another magic bullet (e.g., unrelated memory games)

MissJPlumb: Hi, I’m Jo, and I’m a teacher of science and psychology in a secondary school. I have read lots on retrieval practice and what I want to know is, how sound is the evidence for improved retention of all information, not just that tested? In particular, I am interested when there is a lot to be learned as most research I have read is lab based, involving learning just a few items.

Jo: There is lots of research showing that having an overall schema (or a number of different schemas) which means a framework that explains how things are related to each other, can boost learning/memory. One reason for this is that the better new knowledge fits with what we already know, the easier it is to integrate into our long term memory. This link might be useful:

Jo: If students can see the links between things then this facilitates retrieval… I’m sure you already try to emphasise the relationship between different things students are learning, and how one lesson relates to another

MissJPlumb: Yes, always trying to do this. I think I need to unpick what they are failing to remember to see if there is something specific about them – maybe these are the bits where the links are harder to make.

Jo: Yes, that seems like a great strategy.

Yana: One thing to think about is all of the different opportunities we already give our students to practice retrieval in the classroom, and how to maximize them. It doesn’t have to be a quiz or test!
For example, we often ask students questions in class. One way to make it a retrieval practice exercise for everyone is that instead of calling on one student to answer, let all students write down their answers for a few minutes. Then, ask a student to answer. This way, everyone gets a chance to retrieve!

Reakesg16: Hi all! I’m a science teacher. Can anyone elaborate on ‘dual coding’ – what it might look like in a classroom and why it works?

Yana: Great question! There’s a lot we don’t know about dual coding yet, but the basic idea is that we have two opportunities to remember information if it is coded both as an image (no words) and verbally. The other aspect is that if we use images, we tend to illustrate things with an organizational structure that is hard to achieve with just words, which is an additional benefit to learning. Those interested in dual coding should follow Oliver Caviglioli on Twitter! He is an amazing illustrator who has read a lot about the theory behind dual coding.

Paul: The point I made just above – providing the same information across multiple senses, leads to its integration by the brain – which leads to stronger attending to it, hence better encoding into short-term and then long-term memory. Our brain likes redundancy and will integrate information just based on the fact that it is presented at the same time. More importantly, if there is a semantic link between the bits of information (and here we go back directly to the points just made about material familiarity), integration processes based on long-term memory become active, helping to encode the semi-novel material. And if there are also other “ways” of presenting the material – via touch, perhaps somehow by their movement – this variety should help

Lucy: Sharon Ainsworth does some great work on using visualisations in science that I think is relevant here:

Jessie: I have been working on a strategy that relates to this. Interestingly I am taking a lab effect to the classroom at the moment to make sure that it works but essentially children seem to find it easier to learn new words (what they sound like and what they mean) if they have seen what they look like (the spelling pattern). We call this orthographic facilitation and it is akin to what teachers do all the time – write a word on the board while describing it. Though what I have found in classroom observations is that teachers do this sometimes but not all the time. Also, when I talk to teachers about this strategy (emphasising written words when teaching their meanings) for once it is a message from science that is translatable into the classroom without too much time or resource.

Reakesg16: Agreed – very transferrable! I’ll be passing this on. Any supporting study/evidence I can point people to?

Jessie: Yes, I have written a blog on this:
And versions of the papers can be found on the uni website:,
and on my lab website I’ve summarised findings in a poster form for teachers

Jessie: What I would add is that typically visual information seems to be easier to process/learn that auditory information so having the visual information ‘supports’ the more difficult auditory learning. This is counter to ideas about learning styles.

Yana: Yes, very important to distinguish between dual coding and learning styles, because they are NOT the same thing! Learning styles is the idea that you have to match instructional style to students’ preferences, for which there is no evidence. Dual coding, on the other hand, is the idea that providing information as both images and words is going to be helpful to ALL students.

KrisMS: Hi, in some schools learning styles are still used in training and are suggested that they are a good thing to consider when teaching – is this not true?

Yana: Thank you for your question! On the whole, there isn’t any evidence that teaching according to preferred learning styles helps students. However, given that some schools still use it in their trainings, maybe we can try to see the upside. A benefit of the “learning styles” idea is that teachers end up using many different ways of presenting information, which is going to help all students in general because it’s important to see information presented in a variety of modalities. The individual student’s preference, however, does not relate to how they learn.

Jessie: Agreed. The problem with the way the learning styles is used at school (in my experience) is that it is tailored to the individual so children may not get all of the rich and varied modes of presenting information

Jo: This article shows that there is no evidence for learning styles

Jo: And this was written about it in the Guardian

Yana: We have a great post on our blog about how to re-purpose the learning styles idea to help students –

ModSu: This link has a useful summary about what evidence there may or may not be for several ‘neuromyths’, including learning styles –

Janet: One also has to be careful not to overload the learners with too much visual and auditory information at the same time. We use auditory cortex when reading; we silently read aloud to ourselves, however fast or slow an individual processes that visual information. So competing auditory input from a lecture can overload a brain trying to read a dense slide. Be judicious in the presentations. One must balance information to be used for studying with information to be used to understand the presentation.

KrisMS: Thank you. Does this relate to students writting and listening at the same time? can they do both or would it be better to get them to stop writing and listen and then make notes when I am not talking?

Janet: Great question. I am not aware of any research on this, but I like your strategy. It is worth trying. When students type digital notes, they tend to type verbatim what the lecturer is saying. When they write longhand notes, which take longer, then synthesize and remember the information better because they actually processed it in the note taking. If you stop to let them take notes, even better, because they have to write from their own memories.

Janet: Here are some relevant references for more information:

Paul: I believe if small bits of information are presented in separate “chunks” and the information is based on familiar constructs, multisensory formats do help attention and learning. Naturally, we cannot pay attention to multiple constant streams of novel information across different senses – or at least we’re bad at it. This is because we encode sequentially. In general, people are v bad at doing multiple things at the same time, especially if this involves material we’re not experts in.

Reakesg16: My department this year are focusing our teacher development on improving students’ recall of more important information. Currently this seems to involve teachers ensuring repetition of ‘the basics’ during lessons. Is this a good starting point? Would another approach be preferable?

Jo: Repetition of information by the teacher may not be that effective. but getting students to try and recall the basics might be!

Yana: Yes, if “the basics” are repeated throughout the year, that is a great form of spaced practice of the important concepts. However, even better than just repetition would be actually having students recall the basic concepts!

Jo: Linking new knowledge onto these basics would likely also be effective – showing students how new knowledge relates to old improves integration into memory

Reakesg16: Thanks – sounds like there’s still a benefit in moving past the basics, e.g. applying them to new situations/contexts?

Liz: Yes! New contexts and ones learners are already familiar with

ModKathryn: Thank you all for a really interesting discussion. Look forward to seeing you at the next live chat!

Posted on January 16, 2018 modkathryn in Live Chat Transcript, News | Leave a comment

Learning and remembering #1 – Chat transcript – Wednesday 10th January

ModAnnie: It’s 8pm! Welcome to the chat everyone.

Stannum: My main thoughts were about memory consolidation. How can we help students deal with having to recall lots of information over a long period of time.
Is revisiting the same topic regularly useful? Is it time critical. Should we recap every week? Or is there a metacognition approach where you assess your own knowledge better?

Liz: @stannum This has definitely been a hot topic in the “Ask a Question” section!
@stannum The short answer is Yes, it is useful to revisit topics, and to interleave that learning with other material. One of the best approaches is to do low-stakes testing. The timing depends on how long you’d like students to retain the info

Jo: here’s a response I gave earlier: Should we consolidate learning by regular revision of past topics throughout the year?
revisiting the same topic could be useful, as memories take time (and sleep) to consolidate
but also testing yourself (or your students) is more effective than repeating information
here is a link to an accessible article on how testing yourself is effective:

stannum: Cool. Thanks. Haven’t browsed the questions section yet. But we were talking about this in our department meeting. We have regular test but they are only “end of topic” rather than synoptic.

Jo: yes, this is typical – but testing can be a useful way to boost learning rather than just an assessment – seems like you were already thinking this Gareth

Carolina: Distributed practice is a great way to start because it means that you systematically plan your study sessions.
The key is to take breaks between one session and the other…Information may be forgotten, but this is actually a good thing as retrieving information later will be more effortful which is important for stronger memory traces.

hannahmoloney: Hi, is there any current research which suggests that we can improve working memory? I am a trained dyslexia specialist but as far as I’m aware I still believe a WM deficit to be fixed. Is there anything I can do to improve my students WM?

Paul: i believe the overall picture from the existing research is that 1) any function that you wil train will improve, but 2) the *real* issue is whether this training generalises to other functions – here evidence – at least from computerised training regimes – is weak
what we DO have to bear in mind though is the methodology of the most of the employed studies
the large majority use gamified versions of cognitive visual tasks , such as N-back “count backwards in steps of 3 from 100” etc.
where these computerised cogntive regimes seems to have largely failed (that is, in the far transfer that i have just mentioned) – certain types of games have been surprisingly effective
playing games, especially action video games (most often studied are shooters, but racer share the same features), improve people’s sharpness of vision, ability to see in 3D, their ability to create representations of currently important information etc.

Jo: unfortunately the evidence suggests that while we can train working memory – i.e. we can get better at WM games – this doesn’t translate and improve other skills that use WM, such as reading or maths
Hi Hannah, this is an article that demonstrates that WM training does not benefit reading or maths:
it is an academic article – does anyone have anything thats been written for a more general audience?
@Hannah – do you think your students with dyslexia have poor WM?

hannahmoloney: Can anyone explain why a few of my dyslexic students have a very good memory for music and lyrics, but not spoken word? Does it employ different parts of the brain together and, could this aid learning for some?

Jo: Yes I can!
dyslexia is a specific problem with phonology – speech sounds, and linking these to letters
so music should not be affected, and nor is language comprehension
unfortunately though there is not good evidence that musical training for example can help dyslexia. really you need to train phonology and letter-sounds.
This is a review from 2012 concluding that there is no good evidence for musical training:
but that is not the same thing as saying it definitely doesn’t work, just that there is not good evidence for it

stannum: Thanks. And @hannah, my son is quite badly dyslexic and he has and excellent vocabulary and memory for anything spoken. And he is good at computer games! (just not reading)

Lucy: I guess a common theme here is that whatever you want to improve, the training itself needs to be quite close to it, or link to it in some way. Transferring learning is really hard!!

Paul: I agree with Jo, there is some work on training letter-sound pairing as being effective in reducing dyslexia
@Gareth there is one fantastic study on the effect of action video games on improving reading speed in DD (developmental dyslexia) kids – free pdf version, too 🙂
Jo: @Paul and @Gareth – be wary of this study
Sorry, I will have re re-read the action video games study but I know there was a lot of controversy about it at the time
Paul: @Jo that’d be fantastic and v informative, i held it quite highly


I wanted to post a link to a blogpost by Dorothy Bishop about this study:

And also to add that the original study was conducted with Italian children, but a follow-up study with English speaking children suffers from similar methodological problems as identified in Dorothy’s blog. Small numbers of children, there is no independent verification of children’s reading problems (they were included if their parents said that they had a dyslexia diagnosis), the action video game and control group are not matched initially for reading ability, and the reading tasks are administered in a non-standard way, which makes you worry, as they may not be measuring what they are supposed to measure.

Stannum: Am I correct in thinking that exercise and social interaction scores more highly in improving peoples working memory?
Rather than getting better at sudoku!

Paul: @Gareth- there was a Q on links between exercise and academic achievement, which I’ve answered:
the gist is that aerobic exercise has an overal positive, although a bit weak positive effect on learning and grades in school

kohlmand: Can you tell me what is the best way of delivering information/rehearsing information to make it stick. I understand the idea of interleaving and retrieval practice but what specific activities work best?
I always tell students converting information from one form to another is valuable e.g. words to picture but have I made this up!?

Liz: @kohlmand One approach is to link the material to something meaningful/emotional

Lucy: @kohlmand I was going to say the same thing. Anything you can do to make material stand out should make it more memorable

stannum: @kohlmand lol. I tell them the same thing. I hope I am correct in saying that simple recitation/copying is a poor way to revise, but that processing the information by answering questions, shortening, diagrams helps more.

ModSu: My 2 teens are encouraged by their school to use mindmaps and spidergrams to help with revision. Is there any research about these methods of remembering?

Paul: @Kohlmand the overall research points to the idea that the larger number of manipulations you do on the material, the richer the way in which the brain represents it and so can recall it by afterwards
our work in adults have shown that known information that has been presented both visually and auditorily is better remembered afterwards than informaton presented just visually
in kids we are not getting as reliable results, note

Liz: And you’re absolutely right; multisensory processing is also helpful for stronger memory encoding. @Paul can likely elaborate on this, as I know he works on multisensory processing

kohlmand: @Paul @ liz oh phew multi sensory is good. I find the emotional relelvance is hard to deliver and can distract from the content

Paul: @Kohlmand I’d say multisensory is very good
it’s how we naturally all represent objects in our brains

kohlmand: @paul why do you think the results in young people are different?

Paul: these are unpublished data, so I’m careful with drawing conclusions
one point is that the data has been collected across a wide range of ages
affecting numbers within smaller age ranges

Kohlmand: I just wonder if the info has can be via a video with both auditory and visual info, or if it’s more effective from a live adult in the room that can respond and interact

Lucy: @kohlmand Shaaron Ainsworth at Nottingham has done lots of research looking at visualisations to help learning which might be of interest, e.g.

Paul: intuition would dictate that teacher is better, but there is some v recent work from Suzanne Dikker that pupils report watching videos more engaging which in turn was linked to better retentions of the presented material
higher levels of NFC are linked to generally more in-depth processing of the presented material

Lucy: @kohlmand I heard about a study (not sure if it’s been published) where the main factor that improved performance was having a live adult teaching rather than just a video

niki: I heard a really good talk from Duncan Astle yesterday (about neuroscience and Education), in this talk, he mentioned a study about how curiosity can help retention. Any thoughts or pointers?

Paul: @niki,there is certainly a v interesting construct called “need for cognition”, which describes drawing pleasure from cognitively effortful activities

stannum: I guess “engagement” and “curiosity” are simlar?
Paul: I’d say that curiosity is more internally driven and a general trait, while engagement is something more malleable by effective practice ?

Lia – Wellcome: @niki and @all could this be a useful starting point?

Paul: @niki this one is a bit old so maybe a bit outdated but its a fascinating review – Dispositional differences in cognitive motivation: The life and times of individuals varying in need for cognition
@niki there’s another ref, even more directly linked to your Q – pape called The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation.
again a little old and I dont know of a good updatre


Stannum: Has anyone got any thoughts/data on gamification of learning? I seem to remember reading about a schools where students “levelled up” and chose what they wanted to do that day based on what they needed to do to “level up”? Also seem to remember that in computer games players were willing to tackle a problem several times to defeat a “boss” but they wont try a harder question!
Jo: Paul Howard Jones does research on gamification of learning
@stannum towards the end there is a section on dopamine and gaming and learning etc.

Paul: @stannum different types of games seem to influence different functions
@stannum Action video games seem to affect primarly visual and general “attentional control” / “executive” functions, that is, those that let you select the currently important information
@stannum in turn strategic, RPG and/or multiplayer games influence slightly different processes (linked to those mentioned), associated in my opinion with working memory

thomass17: I’m a science teacher in a really deprived school and really struggle to get even my brightest students to learn, remember or link even the simplistic of tasks. I wondered if anyone had any ideas that I could try or research to help me understand the reasons why.

Jessie: @thomass17 that is really hard. What do you feel are the barriers to them learning? Could be so many things

thomass17: Some have some real issues as you would expect but some have perfectly fine lives. Its almost as if they walk through the door and switch off. I wonder whether expectations have something to do with it but is so hard to get the to even remember something as simple as the respiration equation.

jessie: @thomass17 I’m sure you’ve thought of this but making the topic real and relevant to them. Really hitting home why hey should car, real life implications etc

Paul: @thomass17 could perhaps more so-called “student-centred” learning approaches help? These are those that make the student the agent behind what they are learning (naturally, within a prescribed range of to-be-learnt information base) ?

thomass17: I’ve tried many approaches and I can get the enthusiasm to work during the lesson but it seems to have disappeared by next lesson. Its so infuriating as I know these students could do well but I just can’t identify the barrier to jump over it. School force them to constantly do recall but I don’t think that this is really solving the issue – more meeting targets for exams.

Posted on January 11, 2018 ModShane in Live Chat Transcript | Leave a comment