Heard of Eric Kandel?
One towering piece of theory in learning, the distinction between short and long-term memory, should be applied to everything we do in education and training. In practice we do everything to AVOID taking the distinction seriously.
We teach and train to forget
Largely, we have sheep-dip courses, cognitive overload, poor encoding, too much emphasis on facts, little in the way of spaced practice and short-term summative assessment. Net result, little long-term retention and application. We teach and train to forget.
Kandel's one of the most important learning theorists on the planet but barely known. With a Nobel Prize for his work on learning and memory, he’s a towering figure in the science of learning.
Learning is memory
Learning, for Kandel, is the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories (a simple fact often overlooked). His insight was to first recognise that the functional and biochemical features of nerves and synapses in snails, worms and flies are not substantially different from humans. His work on giant marine snails uncovered not only the physiological but molecular pathways in short and storage in long-term memory through spaced practice. As it turns out, he showed that all of the early gestalt psychologists and a great many other memory theorists got this hopelessly wrong.
His work initially focused on Implicit (Procedural) memories such as habituation, sensitisation and classical conditioning skills and habits, but then moved into Explicit (Declarative) facts and events, where he made further discoveries about the molecular mechanisms in memory.
Kandel has opened up the research pathway to knowing how memory works physiologically, thus opening up the possibility not only of enhancing and curing disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, but understanding how learning actually works, leading to significant improvements in practice.
Seems abstract but has immediate relevance
Even without Kandel's chemical and physiological confrimation, we have an abundance of psychological evidence showing that the distinction is clear. Why then is it so often ignored?
If this seems a little too abstract consider how hooked education and training is on short-term memory experiences and assessment. We know how deficient short-term memory is because there is no fundamental chemical and physiological change, whereas long-term memory does involve chemical and physiological change. This simple change in focus would radically alter almost everything we deliver.