This is my response to one of Kris Boulton’s blogs in his current excellent series. Read his blog post first.
To start with, I fully recognise the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. As you get older, there are more and more people to remember, and I often have a problem matching names to faces. About 10 years ago I had difficulty remembering the names of 2 people I had known 5 years previously. When I eventually remembered their names, I undertook to not forget them again, and have periodically deliberately dredged up their names, with the result that I can now recall them at will. Now, this example is pretty trivial (and a little mad), but it is clearly true that pieces of information that we need to use frequently are remembered more thoroughly. For example, PIN numbers for debit cards. Times tables. Car registration numbers (there was a time when it was widely believed the Police might stop you whilst driving and ask what your registration number was; failure to get it right implied you had stolen the car). Equally, when we no longer need to use these pieces of information then they are very much harder to recall; I can’t remember any of the previous PIN numbers.
Equally, I consciously remember very little of what I learnt at University. That knowledge was a stepping stone, and helped to build up my frameworks of knowledge. These are not just facts, or pieces of information, but ways of seeing and understanding the domain area, and intellectual structures on which new knowledge can be hung. In Chemistry it is possible to map out the important concepts of the subject, and determine the most suitable order in which to study them. More complex areas build on more foundational ones, and it helps to study them in that order. Careful laying of the foundation (the foundations for the framework of knowledge) greatly aids studying the subject at a higher level. In Chemistry, it helps to have automaticity in some pieces of information, but it isn’t necessary for some others. What is important, though, is to grasp the concepts (e.g. atoms, electrons, bonding), and these are the backbone of the framework of knowledge.
Do we really organise our knowledge in this fashion (frameworks of knowledge)? I don’t know…it certainly feels like it. But, it is a very useful model to help understand memory, and understand what information/knowledge needs to be studied, and in what order.
[I’m still not convinced that learning all 195 capitals and countries is necessary. The more relevant question appears to be, what should the framework of knowledge in Geography look like.]