We have eyes that take in visual information
and ears that take in auditory information. The
information that we pay attention to enters our
working memory. Working memory is all of the
information we can think about at once. This is
different than long-term memory, which is all of
the information we have in our head without
consciously thinking about it. Working memory
has two major parts: an auditory part and a
visual part. These two parts are very limited in
the amount of information they can hold at once.
For example, if I read you a list of numbers and
told you to immediately repeat them back to me,
you could probably only repeat back about 7
numbers. This is an example of the limit of
auditory memory. Because it is so easy to
overload each part of working memory, it is good
to distribute information across the two parts
rather than putting too much pressure on one or
the other. For example, if you are watching an
animation on how lightning forms, the animation
is being processed in the visual part of your
working memory. If there were also text in the
animation explaining each part, your visual
working memory would be completely overloaded.
Thus, it's better to present spoken narration
with an animation, because that distributes the
information across the two parts of working
memory without overloading either one.
Information has to pass through working
memory in order to get stored in long-term
memory, so it's important not to try to take in
more information than working memory can
It's hard to say whether visual or auditory
memory is better-- they're just different! In
general, people learn best when they construct
new knowledge by organizing and integrating it
with their prior knowledge. Whether information
is presented with pictures or sound, that is the
key to learning.
Different people have different ways of
remembering things more effectively than other
people. Some remember what they see, others what
they hear, and still others what they read, and
still others yet what they do.
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