Long-term memory is where information, knowledge, and skills are stored for a long period: for hours, days, weeks, years, even decades! Long-term memory differs from short-term memory and working memory. Short-term memory can store a few things for a few minutes. The working memory is what we do with those few things in the minutes that it is in short term memory. We need all these three types of memory working well in school-aged students so they can truly learn. In order for students to truly learn new concepts and use those concepts in the real world to solve problems, we must help them bring the new knowledge to their long-term memory.
Types of Long-term Memory
Long-term memory is divided into explicit (knowing what) and implicit (knowing how). Explicit memory includes declarative memory, which includes events and facts; episodic memory, which includes personal events and experiences; and semantic memory, which stores information about the world, meaning of words, and general information. Explicit memory is verbal and can be retrieved consciously. Implicit memory, on the other hand, is primarily procedural memory, which includes learned skills and tasks. It is nonverbal and can only be retrieved unconsciously. For example, explaining the steps for riding a bike uses explicit memory, while actually riding the bike is based on learned skills and uses implicit memory.
Memory Expectations in Different Cultures
Some cultures expect children to learn by strict memorization. This can lead to a lack of understanding of the purpose of the lesson or how the lesson can be applied to more complex lessons or practical problems. In China, for example, remembering is more important than understanding at the time of teaching. According to Clow, in China it is believed that memorization is essential because it helps students understand concepts and skills, while much of the Western world believes that memorization is limited because it does not help students remember and apply concepts in real world situations.
The primary objective of the education system in Finland, for example, is not memorization but competency and motivation of students to be lifelong learners. Hautamäki and Kupiainen note that students are expected to adapt their knowledge and their mastery of relevant facts to solve problems. Finnish students memorize relevant facts, but the emphasis is on using those facts to help them think critically to solve problems. They seek a balance between memorization and the application of facts.
In the United States, education is moving toward project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and play-based learning, among other methods that decrease the amount of rote memorization. Some education experts, however, note that teachers still need to require memorization of multiplication facts, states, principles, formulas, and laws. As Ferlazzo points out, students cannot be creative or innovative with knowledge when they do not know the basic facts. It seems likely that students across the globe would benefit from a balance between memorization and applied knowledge.