Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Over and over I hear statements similar to "memorization is not a substitute for learning the material" with the implications that somehow memory is completely separated from learning. Here is my response, try learning the material without memory.

Imagine taking a test in Newtonian physics when you can't remember Newton's 2nd Law, how about taking a Calculus test where you completely forgot what an integral is, or what integration by parts is. What about trying to analyze an event in history without remembering what actually occurred, how about writing an essay where you forgot how to spell simple words. Try programming in any computer language without remembering the commands.

Now of course this doesn't mean that learning is a simple memorization of facts and problems, that is an extreme view, but on the other hand learning in and of itself does not exclude memory and memorization. Memorization provides the raw materials of what we know, but, understanding makes those raw materials become something known.

I propose a balanced view of memorization; understanding is more important than memorization yet, learning something is not simply understanding it, for without memory there is no "it" to understand.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depending on your definition of memorization.. all learning could be said to solely consist of it(if it's defined as adding objects to your memory). Understanding is just something that occurs when all the correct concepts have been memorized.

The differences in comprehension of material between different people should then just be an effect of differences in their object retention in memory.

People claim there is a difference between memorization and understanding? The cause of such claims partly consists of a lack of clear definitions and partly of a failure to discuss, in clearer terms, what they really mean.

With memorization, people usually mean trying to add simple facts to your memory and with understanding they usually mean seeing the big picture and having a more complete model of the subject to work with as well as being able to apply ones knowledge of the structure of the facts within the subject to solve problems.

The structural properties of a subject are JUST MORE FACTS to memorize, even though they may appear to be of a different nature. All the methods of analysis within a subject are also facts to memorize.

The difference between memorizing plain facts and memorizing structural properties or methods exists only in the methods of memorization.

Whereas common facts are memorized consciously and in a well-define manner by most people, structural facts and methods are often memorized in an obscurer, and sometimes unconscious, way.

But still, understanding simply means having memorized all the different concepts required!

September 22, 2006 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger FSC729 said...

I agree in part, the only problem is like you said the structural facts are memorized in an obscure or subconscious way, this goes to the heart of what it means to learn or by your definition memorize structural facts. Either way we are still left with a mystery.

The problem is that not all structural facts, methods, or analysis are explicitly presented. Hence, any memorization or learning that goes on must "abstract" this implicit structure from materials in the memory. This process is different from simple object retention.

Case in point, lets say a child is trying to solve an algebraic problem. The child knows all the properties of the numbers involved, he knows the properties of the operations involved, and he knows all the structural facts of elementary algebra. Now, when he tries to solve a problem that he has never seen before then, he has no object in his memory to refer to. Hence, what he does to solve such a problem really is a process different from object recall. This specific problem was not included in the structural facts nor in his common facts, hence to solve such a problem he needs to refer to the abstracted structure.

September 23, 2006 at 12:15 AM  

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