Is Memorizing Bad ?

02 Jun

 I wanted to do this blog as my students often tell me that there is no need to memorize. I felt that I needed to put down my thoughts on this.  The trend in teaching and learning these days seems to advocate no memorization. However, I think we need to reconsider this.

I think that memorization is needed for a start — because it enables and aids the thinking the process. The basic units of learning such as facts relating to concepts need to be remembered. However, there needs to be understanding too. For instance we need to remember that chloroplast is needed to photosynthesize and that it is green in colour. This will lead to questions such as why is it green, which in turn will lead to more facts/information that may need to be remembered to understand how plants produce food from sunlight using chloroplast.

While memorization of facts with understanding will be helpful, memorization of texts will not be helpful. Once the words have vaporized from memory, so will the knowledge –this is superficial memorization. The test of memorization would be to see if we can explain the same fact in our own words. However, we need to ask ourselves several questions regarding the fact  and answer them to ensure understanding. In a way, memorization with understanding is like knowing many facts and knowing the interconnectedness between the facts.

I think the trouble is when we have arguments that what is needed is understanding, there is so much facts available on the internet and in the books that we do not remember– all we need to do is just know how to access.

While this perspective seems logical, here is what we are missing.

Yes, facts and information are available everywhere- we have an overload of information. However accessibility of information does not mean automatic knowledge of the information. There is a need to search for the information, identify the information, verify if the information is true etc.

However, if these steps had been done earlier and the information has been stored in our CPU (our brain) instead of the computer’s CPU, the accessibility is likely to be faster. If we need to search for the information each time, we are not using our system efficiently.

I think it is not just about the speed- but that the network for accessing information is also strengthened when we use our memory-patterns become ingrained into our system this is likely to help us in putting together the relevant information/ideas/concepts together. If the patterns are sound and generally applicable, it will help us become efficient at making sound judgments. However, we must remember that we cannot have 100% generaizability and errors in making judgments should not be blamed on memory alone.

Overall, I think we still need to encourage learners to know the basic facts and information.But we need them to know the interconnectedness between the facts too. I think this is where mindmapping helps.

Another point is interest/liking.  If we like a certain subject, knowing the facts becomes automatic. Say that we like a certain piece of music, there is no problem remembering the music piece. Next we may even find out all about the musician and remember facts about them. And then we may explore why the musician makes a certain type of music- the layer and layer of information gives a certain understanding.

Here is the final thoughts on this

If memorization is considered to be not needed,

If memorization is not bad or detrimental,

If memorization could be good

If memorization with understanding would be even better,

Why not try to find out more on how to do this?

Here is another article on a related theme.


Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Just about anything else


Tags: , ,

6 responses to “Is Memorizing Bad ?

  1. languagetutor1

    June 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I agree with you that meaningless memorization is not the best way to go when it comes to learning a particular skill. For example, when I was a child, my parents taught me multiplication facts by writing them down over and over again. Mindlessly repeating the exercises were eventually engrained in my memory. But if you asked me, what does 2X3 mean? What does it look like? Why is 3X2 the same as 2X3? I would not have been able to answer. I realized what these facts meant when I was in 7th grade!

    Using memorization exercises, then, should be meaningful and encourage us to look at the connections between the facts we are memorizing, as you pointed out.

    • learnr

      June 15, 2011 at 1:36 am

      Hi languagetutor1

      Would you have techniques to recommend for meaningful memorization?

  2. docstu

    June 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    It seems I read somewhere once that when you take in new information and you can put that information into action within 24 hour time period you are likely to retain that information for a much longer time than just processing the information. I am torn on this one…memorization is not always the enemy. Sometimes in my younger years when I had no idea how to study I would memorize just for the test; especially if it is information I had no interest in. I think you make a great point that if it is something a student is interested in learning and using the information is just second nature.
    Thanks for the post and great information.

    • learnr

      June 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

      I think some information just needs to be remembered. I mean we just need to memorize our alphabets- not much of an understanding needed- we need to memorize the grammatical rules too. But I certainly agree that that is not enough.

      And yes, I think application helps to remember- and even helps to understand- learning is better when we apply what we have learnt/are learning. This is the underpinning principle for situational learning, learning- in-context, problem-based learning etc.

  3. docstu

    July 8, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I don’t mean to harp on the standards of learning; however; I have concerns that due to the push to meet standards are we giving information, testing, and moving on? Is it possible that it is the technique of how information is given rather than how it is taken in?

    • learnr

      November 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Hi There,

      Thanks for your comments and am sorry for the late response ( not so timely ….)

      I think that there is a lot of syllabus to cover and teachers are bogged down with content coverage- this may lead to information overload – But I think there is a general trend globally towards lessons that are more application based, I am hopeful that things will change – but i hope that teachers do not say no to memorization completely- basic facts still need to be remembered.


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