Memory and learning are
so closely connected that people often confuse them with each other. But the specialists
who study them consider them two distinct phenomena.
These specialists define learning as a process that
will modify a subsequent behaviour.
on the other hand, is the ability to remember past experiences.
learn a new language by studying it, but you then speak it by using your memory
to retrieve the words that you have learned.
is essential to all learning, because it lets you store and retrieve the information
that you learn. Memory is basically nothing more than the record left by a learning
Thus, memory depends on learning. But learning
also depends on memory, because the knowledge stored in your memory provides the
framework to which you link new knowledge, by association. And the more extensive
your framework of existing knowledge, the more easily you can link new knowledge
you know that a Porsche is a car, you know that a Porsche has brakes, even if
you have not actually seen them, because you know that all cars have brakes. This
highly useful form of reasoning is called inference, and it is based essentially
on knowledge that we already have stored in our memories. The more knowledge we
have already acquired, the more we will be able to draw inferences.
Human memory is not a unitary
process. Research suggests, that, at the psychological level, various types of
memory are at work in human beings. It also seems increasingly likely that these
various systems bring different
parts of the brain into play.
Types of memory
can be classified in a number of ways, depending
on the criterion used. With duration as the criterion, at least three different
types of memory can be distinguished: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term
Sensory memory takes the information provided
by the senses and retains it accurately but very briefly. Sensory memory lasts
such a short time (from a few hundred milliseconds to one or two seconds) that
it is often considered part of the process of perception. Nevertheless, it represents
an essential step for storing information in short-term memory.
memory temporarily records the succession of events in our lives. It may register
a face that we see in the street, or a telephone number that we overhear someone
giving out, but this information will quickly disappear forever unless we make
a conscious effort to retain it. Short-term memory has a storage capacity of only
about seven items and lasts only a few dozen seconds. Just as sensory memory is
a necessary step for short-term memory, short-term memory is a necessary step
toward the next stage of retention, long-term memory.
not only stores all the significant events that mark our lives, it lets us retain
the meanings of words and the physical skills that we have learned. Its capacity
seems unlimited, and it can last days, months, years, or even an entire lifetime!
But it is far from infallible. It sometimes distorts the facts, and it tends to
become less reliable as we age.
Long-term memory as
a whole is defined by the criterion of long duration. But other
criteria can be applied to break down the complex phenomenon of memory into
One such criterion is whether
or not the long-term memory in question can be verbalized. On the basis of this
criterion, two main forms of long-term memory can be distinguished.
first is declarative memory: your memory of all those things that you are
aware of remembering and that you can describe in words, such as your birthday,
or the meaning of the word "cradle", or what you ate last night. This
form of memory is also called explicit memory, because you can name and describe
each of these remembered things explicitly.
form of long-term memory is non-declarative memory. It is also known as
implicit memory, because you express it by means other than words. For
example, when you ride a bike, juggle some balls or simply tie your shoelaces,
you are expressing memories of motor skills that do not require the use of language.
Such "motor memories" are just one type of implicit memory. There
are others as well.