In Defense of Memorization

Way down at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy is “knowledge” (Original Taxonomy) or “remembering” (Revised Taxonomy), otherwise pejoratively referred to as “memorization.”

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                                     Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy

Any instructional designer worth his or her salt knows that we never design for memorization; we design for higher Taxonomy levels — at a minimum “understanding/comprehension.”

But memorization has its place. For example, when you read you don’t sound out every word you see. You know that C-A-T spells cat. No reason to sound it out. As an adult, you’ve memorized the pronunciation and meaning of hundreds of thousands of words. If you hadn’t, reading would be incredibly tedious.

Math as well. Back around third grade your teacher had you memorize the multiplication tables. Today, as an adult, you know automatically that 6 x 5 = 30, as does 10 x 3. Imagine if you hadn’t memorized these facts? Doing routine, daily math would take hours rather than seconds.

When you learn a new language, you begin by translating everything you hear back into your native language, a time-consuming two-step process. But after a while words or phrases you repeatedly hear don’t have to be translated. You just know what they mean automatically.

A sales representative, when discussing his/her company’s product with a prospective client, needs to have a body of key product data memorized.

The key concept here is Automaticity. Automaticity increases fluency and reduces cognitive load. It enables learners to free up working memory for those tasks that do require higher level cognitive processing.

Developing automaticity takes repeated exposure, which is where microlearning, spaced learning and retrieval practice enter the picture. Using spacing and a subscription learning approach you can create quizzes and flash-card type exercises to encourage retention and, eventually, automaticity.

So, don’t disparage mere memorization. Some facts can and should just be memorized — and spaced microlearning is the way to do it.

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