PREACHING & TEACHING: Researchers have found that framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Explain how the biblical story is relevant to the listener, before telling the story.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Take a moment to read over the following set of instructions:

The first thing you want to do is decide how many items you want to incorporate. Take t hem out of t he container — it doesn’t matter which ones, as long as there aren’t any obvious signs of damage. Place them somewhere secure, as they tend to move without warning and this can be disastrous. Take the first one you want to deal with, and grasp it lightly along the short axis, then make contact between this and a fi rm but not sharp object. Be sure you also have an adequate container for the material inside. You can repeat this pro cess up to two times, but after three, you should probably start over. With practice, you will end up with a clean separation, but even experts find that it’s diffi cult to keep the various components totally under control. Remember, this is a skill that gets better with practice, and physical strength is less important than dexterity and fi nesse.45

If you read this paragraph in an online course, do you think you could accurately remember many of the key points? Or would it simply go past you in a swirl of confusing, disjointed details? But what if I told you that this “mystery process” was a description of cracking an egg? Look back at the paragraph— it probably seems far more memorable with that key piece of context. Framing is important; human memory doesn’t seem to fully engage in the absence of meaning and relevance. Thinking back to the “function-alist agenda,” this makes a lot of sense— why should we invest scarce cognitive resources on information that doesn’t complement what we already know about the world?

45 This “myster y pro cess” description is adapted from the experimental materials in J. D. Bransford and M. K. Johnson (1972), Contextual prerequi-sites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11(6): 717– 726.

PREACHING & TEACHING: People can only keep about four things in their mind at a time. And usually just one or two things is the working memory span of most people. So, use just 1-2 bullet points in your PowerPoint presentation (and not seven or more).

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press. p. 94.

Limitations on working memory. You may have read somewhere that we can only hold about seven items at a time in working memory. That’s a reassuring enough figure, and might imply that students will do best when we present only seven points at a time— say, seven topics on a web page, or seven bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. But this long- repeated number is now under question as researchers devise ways to measure capacity that factor out rehearsal strategies, imagery, and other mnemonic tricks. Using these updated methods, researchers have found that working memory span is closer to just four items.8 And even within this set of four things, there may be just one or two that are active enough for us to actually use.9 Pinning down the precise number is an important goal for mem-ory theorists, but isn’t really germane to real- world teaching.

8 N. Cowan (2010), The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, and why? Current Directions in Psychological Science 19(1): 51– 57, doi:10.1177/0963721409359277.

9 N. Cowan, E. M. Elliott, J. Saults, C. C. Morey, S. Mattox, A. Hismjatullina, and A. A. Conway (2005), On the capacity of attention: Its esti-mation and its role in working memory and cognitive aptitudes, Cognitive Psy-chology 51(1): 42– 100, doi:10.1016/j.cog psych.2004.12.001

PREACHING & TEACHING: Listeners remember more when they see what they are learning is relevant for their survival. #Salvation #Eternity

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

Researchers have flushed out these vestiges in a number of intriguing experiments, including several that show marked memory superiority for items that people process in terms of “survival relevance.” This “survival processing” paradigm asks participants to think of whether a given item— a hammer, say, or a chair— would help them survive living out on a grassland as a hunter- gatherer. Asked later to recall which words they saw in the experiment, participants performed better for objects they thought of in the survival context, compared to a control condition where they had thought of whether the items would be useful moving from one apartment to another, or other more modern survival- relevant activities. Researchers are still hashing out whether these fi ndings can truly be traced to ancestral survival challenges, but for now, evi-dence suggests that they aren’t merely an artifact of some confound-ing factors such as how emotionally arousing or attention- grabbing the different scenarios are.21

21 J. S. Nairne and J. S. Pandeirada (2010), Adaptive memory: Ancestral priorities and the mnemonic value of survival pro cessing, Cognitive Psychology61(1): 1– 22, doi:10.1016/j.cog psych.2010.01.005

MEMORY & Shorter study sessions are better than one big marathon. If you have, say, six hours to spend going over previously learned material, two three- hour sessions beats one big marathon, but three, four, or more shorter sessions are even better.

Michelle D. Miller. (2014). Minds Online : Teaching Effectively with Technology. Harvard University Press.

The spacing effect— sometimes also called distributed practice— refers to the increased payoff we get from spreading review sessions over time, rather than “massing” them in long, concentrated sessions.31 Like the testing effect, spacing is robust and holds up under a lot of different variations. There really is no magic number of study sessions or ideal length, as long as spacing is maximized. If you have, say, six hours to spend going over previously learned material, two three- hour sessions beats one big marathon, but three, four, or more shorter sessions are even better.

… Memory researchers have cited a number of mechanisms that feed into this effect, including the ability to link up information to a wider variety of cues. 

31 For a review see N. J. Cepeda, H. Pashler, E. Vul, J. T. Wixted, and D. Rohrer (2006), Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis, Psychological Bulletin 132(3): 354– 380, doi:10.1037 /0033- 29 0 9.132.3.354 .