Declarative Learning Pathway

by Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

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    00:05 So Barb, we knew that people can have different working memories and it's pretty important to get those links in long-term memory. Can you tell us a bit how that happens inside the brain? Sure. This is actually a fascinating process.

    00:26 So, a main process the brain uses to create links in long-term memory is the declarative pathway. So it moves that information from working memory, sort of in the prefrontal cortex, on through the hippocampus and into the neocortex.

    00:50 But if your working memory is actually taking in information from the outside, what can happen is the hippocampus can't pass information to long-term memory. Now, this might be a little bit confusing so let's use a kind of a parable, a story, and this is a story of the choir in your brain. So, this choir has 3 main characters. The first is a character named Hip and Hip is just the little guy, he's kind of glib that means he speaks very fast, he learns fast, but he actually also forgets fast and he is only into the latest fashions. So that means if it's something that happened very long ago, he'll forget about it. Now, that's Hip but we have another character and that is Neo. Neo is rather capacious and well all of our characters have some problems and Neo has a problem in that she is very scatter brained. So, we've got Hip, we've got Neo, and the last character is the conductor. Now if you look here, you can see our conductor is actually the octopus of working memory. So what happens when we're learning is your octopus of working memory is taking in information and both Hip and Neo are listening to the information that the octopus is trying to feed into the rest of the brain. So, the conductor is singing a song essentially, Hip is getting it very quickly, Neo is a little slow and a little scatter brained so she's not getting it very well at all. And you can see that there's bold links going into the hippocampus and very weak links that are going into long-term memory in the neocortex.

    03:06 So, what is happening when people are learning is their conductor is giving lots of information to Hip who grabs it quickly and little information weakly to Neo who grabs it as well as she can but she can't grab it very well. Well, it turns out that whenever the working memory, that conductor, is not getting new information, in other words that conductor is relaxing, then Hip can turn to Neo and actually repeat the information that he's just learned. So that's what Hip does, that's the job of the hippocampus is to repeatedly teach Neo about what she's supposed to be learning. Whenever you get those diffuse mode breaks, remember those 5-minute breaks from the Pomodoro Technique? Hip can actually turn to Neo and teach her and reaffirm these memories or those sets of links that she's making.

    04:15 Now remember I said that our characters have problems. Hip's problem is he can't hold that information very long, maybe a couple of days or a few weeks but those links in Hip's memories are doing is they're reaffirming to Neo which links she's supposed to be strengthening. So over time as Hip gets a little break, he's turning to Neo, practicing with her. In the end, who is the real winner? It is the capacious Neo because she learns those links and she learns them very well with a little help of practicing from Hip and then Hip remember is just kind of this trendy little guy, he forgets everything, but the information is really well stored in Neo.

    05:16 So she ultimately can sing loudly and clearly whatever she's learned. Now, the upshot practically for us in all of these is that remember that Hip can hold some information and it's the indexing information that teaches Neo which links to strengthen. But what happens is we can fill up Hip by cramming. Hip can get quite a bit of information and you know it for a test and then what happens, well test passes, you don't repeat that information, and Hip's memories disappear because he is just this trendy little guy. And then poor Neo has no memories left.

    06:15 So this is why cramming is so bad, you can pass a test effectively by cramming sometimes, but it's information that's only really well established in the hippocampus which has neurons that quickly lose that information. So, as much as you can try to avoid cramming and build good solid structures in Neo by allowing Hip to repeatedly practice with Neo so that ultimately she becomes the expert that you have for a long time. So, Barb that was just a wonderful analogy and so helpful to understand the mechanics of how the brain works and really brings to light all these strategies we've been talking and how important they are.

    07:16 Once you understand the neurophysiologic basis, it really makes sense. But I want to underscore what I think is probably the most important and that is this concept of not cramming and to many of you that are learning and I'm certainly as guilty as anybody of having crammed for exams and you're so focused on the exam, but I can tell you as a surgeon and a practicing doctor, there are far more important reasons not to cram because you not only want to know this information when you take your boards, but you want to know it when you're in the operating room, you want to know it when you're talking to your patients and their families or even other physicians and you're coming up with diagnoses and you're developing treatment plans. You want that material in long-term memory to draw out and make good decisions for your patients. So remember, if you take nothing else away from this course, find ways to avoid cramming. What a great way to think of it Barb, thank you.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Declarative Learning Pathway by Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE is from the course Neuroscience of Learning.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Prefrontal cortex to hippocampus to neocortex
    2. Prefrontal cortex to neocortex to hippocampus
    3. Neocortex to hippocampus to prefrontal cortex
    4. Neocortex to prefrontal cortex to hippocampus
    1. It holds information for a short period of time after receiving it from the prefrontal cortex.
    2. When it is not receiving input from the prefrontal cortex, it feeds information into the neocortex to strengthen learned links.
    3. It is very capacious and can hold vast amounts of information for a long time.
    4. Storing information in the hippocampus is essential for long-term learning.
    1. Cramming could result in better performance on a test.
    2. Cramming is less effective than practicing retrieval for long-term retention.
    3. Cramming temporarily stores information in the hippocampus rather than the neocortex, where it is apt to be more reliably retrievable.
    4. Cramming is essential for healthcare providers to be able to retain information for long periods of time

    Author of lecture Declarative Learning Pathway

     Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

    Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

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    By Neuer C. on 30. March 2023 for Declarative Learning Pathway

    Amazing!!! It makes so much sense after listening to the lessons.