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How Human Memory Works


Memory is the internal process that deals with the storage of information and later retrieval of such information. It is the ability to remember and retain information for future use.

Memory process requires the registration of information, the retention of such information. The possession of memory makes human being to be able to link the present with the past.

Individual differences exist in their ability to remember information. The memory process can be divided into three types. These are the sensory memory, the short-term memory and the long-term memory.

 Sensory Memory


The sensory memory is also known as immediate memory. It is the type of memory that refers to impression that is got after receiving information. It is the memory process that enters through one or more of the senses.

 Short-term memory

The short-term memory involves the retention of information in the brain for a little while before it is forgotten. The short term is a short storage tank because only few information could be stored there and for a very short period of time.

The information in the short- time memory is rapidly lost unless such information is actively maintained. The rapid loss of information in the short term memory could be that information was not well stored in the memory.

The retention of short-term memory can be disturbed by other events that take place shortly after the learned materials. However, with sufficient practice and revision, information stored in short-term memory are transferred to long-term memory.

 Long-term memory

The long-term memory is a permanent memory system reserved for information that has high future value. It is the type of memory whereby the information stored is retained in the brain over a long period of time.

The long-term memory usually contains large amount of information. However, the ability to retrieve such contains large amount of information. However, the ability to retrieve such may depend on having an appropriate cue.

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Remembering is the ability to recall information stored in the memory. It is the present knowledge of a past experience. Remembering can occur in several forms. These forms include:


These type of remembering is derived from sense of familiarity with the materials which had earlier been learned, e.g, seeing someone among a larger group and recognizing him.


Recall is a simple form of remembering which does not involve complex thinking or reasoning.


This type of remembering is a higher order in which one remembers an earlier experience. It is the process by which an individual remembers an event or experience through some cues.

In order to recollect, there will be need for the reconstruction and reorganization of past experience.

Factors Influencing Remembering

These are different factors that can aid remembering

Constant practice

The amount of practice a learner puts into the materials being learnt is an important aspect of promoting remembering.

Teachers should encourage constant practice in order to ensure that learning experiences are permanently stored and remembering made easy, hence, the importance of the role of revision in ensuring good remembering.

Use of Mnemonics

The uses of codes or symbols otherwise known as Mnemonics can promote remembering.

Mnemonics are key letters which can help in remembering the whole body of materials learnt. E.g. BODMAS is a formula used of solving problems of fractions in mathematics.


The learner’s interest and value also constitute an important component in promoting remembering. Interest can serve as a motivator or attention thus enhancing remembering.

If teachers can encourage student to develop interest in a subject, their capacity to remember will be enhanced.

Use of instructional materials

The use of instructional materials is another factor aiding remembering. Teacher must use instructional materials to make lessons interesting.

Spaced learning

Spaced learning tends to enhance students understanding thereby promoting remembering.

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Teachers should therefore avoid mass and congested learning and observe the simple rule of progressing from known to unknown, near to far and simple to complex.

Use of tests

Tests and exercises can be given in order to make students to be alert as well as revise their notes.


The term forgetting is a loss overtime in the amount of information stored in the memory. It is the inability of an individual to recall information stored in the memory.

It is believed that stored information in the memory will fade away if it is not utilized with passage of time. Frequent practice or use in essential to retain information. Ekero (1989) identified three types of forgetting. These are:

  1. Forgetting which occurs when the knowledge of the material presented is there but the individual do not know the material presented well enough to be able to recall it.
  2. Forgetting which occur when we have knowledge of the materials very well but unable to recall the materials due to some reasons.
  3. Forgetting that takes place due to an unconscious desire to forget (psychoanalytic process).

 Factors influencing forgetting

These are many reasons why materials earlier learnt are forgotten. The most important is lack of practice.  If there is insufficient opportunities to use materials learnt, there is tendency to forget.


Another reason for forgetting which psychologists have well provide is interference i.e. the time when an information is first learnt and the time later on, when such information is needed, there is tendency to have learned other things during the interval period and this other things have tendency to cloud out the earlier learning interference therefore is the tendency of a previously learnt material to disturb the recall of another. Interference is of two types.

Proactive inhibition

 This occurs when a previously learnt material prevents the recall of new material.

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Retroactive inhibition

This occurs when a newly learnt material prevents the recall of a previously learnt material.

  Fading is another factor that can promote forgetting. This can occur when an individual does not utilize what has been learnt. The disuse of learnt materials however account for only partial forgetting and not a total forgetting.

Repression is also another factor that can lead to forgetting. Repression is the natural tendency for an individual to forget experiences connected with painful emotions i.e. those experiences which are bitter that the individual deliberately want to forget.

Besides, all the factors influencing remembering, when not present led to forgetting.


This chapter has examined the pertinent issues involved in human learning. The meaning of learning and some learning theories were also discussed.

These include the stimulus-response theories, the cognitive learning and gestalt learning theories. The concept of motivation, transfer to learning, memory system and their classroom applications were also discussed.

Some important factors influencing leaning were highlighted and discussed.


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