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  • Memory relies on encoding and retrieval, so learning designers need to think about how the material gets into long-term memory, and also about what the learner can do to retrieve it later.
  • Learners are besieged with a constant flow of input, and things need to be significant to the learner to attract their attention.
  • People habituate to monotonous stimuli, so learning design needs to not fall into a repetitive drone.
  • Working memory has its limits, and it’s easy to overwhelm a new learner. Limit or chunk the flow of new information to make it more manageable.
  • People hold items in working memory only as long as they need them for some purpose. Once that purpose is satisfied, they frequently forget the items. Asking your learners to do something with the information causes them to retain it longer and increases the likelihood that that information will be encoded into long-term memory.
  • The organization of long-term memory has an impact on a learner’s ability to retrieve material. The material will be easier to retrieve if it is grounded in a rich context and accessible in multiple ways (i.e., on multiple shelves).
  • Matching the emotional context of learning to the emotional context of retrieval improves the likelihood that the learner will be able to successfully use the material.
  • Storytelling leverages an existing mental framework, and therefore information given in story forms can be easier to retain than other types.
  • Repetition and memorization will work to encode information into long-term memory, but it’s a limited strategy. This process can be tedious for learners and doesn’t provide very many pathways for retrieval.
  • There are many different types of memory, and utilizing multiple types can improve the likelihood material is retained.


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Heath, Chip and Dan Heath. 2007. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New York: Random House.

Karpicke, Jeffrey D., and Janell R. Blunt. 2011. “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning Than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping,” Science: DOI: 10.1126/science.1199327, 772–775.

Kensinger, Elizabeth A. 2007. “Negative Emotion Enhances Memory Accuracy: Behavioral and Neuroimaging Evidence.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 16(4): 213–218.

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Miller, George A. 1956. “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” The Psychological Review 63(2): 81–97.

Nielsen, Jakob. 2007. “Banner Blindness: Old and New Findings.” Alertbox, August 20,

Stetson, C., M. P. Fiesta, and D. M. Eagleman. 2007. “Does Time Really Slow Down During a Frightening Event?” PLoS ONE 2(12): e1295.

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