1 04 2013

Memory is a funny thing. What one person remembers can be quite different from another person. Some of it is perspective, some of it might be personal views on the important aspects of an event. Apparently what language you speak and hence what words you have at your disposal also affects what you understand and remember about events. Presumably NLP works differently in different languages.

Most people seem to have their first memories around 4 or 5, although if you try to remember your earliest memory it is difficult to separate what you remember from what you have been told and photographs you have seen. My mother in particular seems to have taken advantage of this and denies events that I specifically remember in an attempt I allege is a rewriting of history. Her brother, meanwhile, used to allege that he could remember being born. Clearly we are a family for whom the truth has been a malleable concept.

But while our memories are already somewhat fallible tools, imagine if, like Star Trek, you had a holo-deck, and could create completely fictional events. You could people your events with real colleagues, friends and acquaintances. And while to you, they would seem to be real experiential memories, the other people would have absolutely no knowledge of the events you created.

PS Stumbleupon just showed me a Wikipedia page on parataxic distortion which expands on this concept.


17 11 2011

photo credit: Alexander P Kapp

Ever walk into a room and forget why? Open a fridge and can’t remember what you wanted?

Did you think perhaps you were having a seniors’ moment? That your alcohol consumption was catching up with you? That you had too much to think about? Did you worry about early onset dementia? (or is that just me?)

Fret no longer, Science to the rescue. A study at Notre Dame University, Indiana, has discovered it is the door’s fault.

There is a reason why you forget things when you walk into another room. As you exit one locale through a doorway, and enter another (and I count the fridge as a locale), your brain thinks that you have exited one “event”, seals off the memory and starts taking in sights, sounds and sensations from the new environment / event. Re-entering the previous room can sometimes jog your memory.

So now you know the real reason – and you can blame the door for your poor memory. It’s always good to be able to allocate blame.

To read more about this, click <a href="” title=”It’s the door’s fault” target=”_blank”>here.

Auditory Processing Disorder

12 11 2011

photo credit edenpictures

I am writing this in the hope it will help others. I have no financial or other interest in this company, or the products they sell, I have no conflict of interest to declare.

One of my sons has Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). This is a Learning Disorder whereby people do not appropriately process information that they hear. In his case this has manifested in being unable to maintain a concentration span, and difficulty remembering things. This has of course had a severe impact on his learning.

We had difficulty getting him diagnosed. Initially a psychologist through the school suggested APD was the problem. We took him to an audiologist who apparently specialises in this diagnosis. Unfortunately the audiologist wouldn’t complete the diagnostic tests because it appeared that Hamish had glue ear (ear infection whereby the thick gluey fluid behind the eardrum holds the ear-drum solid, impacting on hearing and also on the measuring devices they use to test the flexibility and responsiveness of the eardrum).

So we took him away and booked him in with an Ear Nose and Throat surgeon. Two months later at the ENT appointment, his ears were fine. Back to the audiologist. Two months later, again the audiologist couldn’t diagnose him because of glue ear. Repeat a couple of times, and we gave up. End result: paid a lot in medical bills, still no diagnosis.

We decided to treat him as if APD was the problem.

A number of friends and work colleagues told me about a company called Sonic Learning, which has a computer program called Fast ForWord for APD. Not cheap they said, but it made an amazing difference for their children. They jumped a couple of years in their reading age. When your child is already several years behind, this sort of jump is unheard of.

Speech therapist friends and colleagues were less enthusiastic. Teachers were skeptical, saying sometimes it seemed to work, but maybe the children were just that little bit more mature and that was what made the difference.

Well we eventually bit the bullet and bought the program. Five nights a week for an hour a night the child sits at the computer and does a series of six x ten-minute “games”. They have to follow instructions that tell them to do two or three tasks in order. They have to pick high and low sounds in order. They have to tell the difference between consonants and understand complex sentences. As they progress, they get a little harder.

I have to say the effort to get it done regularly every night is difficult. The tasks are monotonous. One friend told me on one of the games she actually couldn’t pick the difference between the consonants (we know where her child got the APD, don’t we?)

We did one whole round, slowly progressing. At the end of the three months, the teachers told us he was concentrating more at school, staying on task.

Because we hadn’t finished we took a month off (I really don’t think he would have done another round straight away) then went back on for a month.

And suddenly a miracle. My son, who previously couldn’t remember more than two digits at a time, can suddenly remember my ten digit phone number – and we haven’t even tried to teach him, he has taught himself.

And another miracle. A speech therapy assessment which included APD aspects has put him within the normal range for his age. To be sure, the low end of normal but within normal range.

This is an absolute miracle, and more than we could have imagined might happen.

So if you are thinking about doing this program, here are my comments – it’s not cheap, it takes committment from you as a parent as well as from the child (I actually sit and watch him do it, occasionally giving him suggestions on technique such as “why don’t you click the bells in order rather than randomly so you can remember where they are”, and it is pretty boring for me too) and in our case the miracles didn’t come until the second round.

But it has worked for us.

Old dogs and new tricks

27 08 2011

Adult learning is a bit of a holy grail – so much research, so little of it put into action.

While the research often demonstrates that the type of learning that is provided in a school-like environment does not suit adult learning (and might not suit children either), none-the-less, we persist in providing school-like environments for adult learning.

My experience as a university lecturer is that adult learners are often very motivated. They know why they are there, they may have chosen to give something else up to be there (free time, course fees, income). They have often chosen what it is that they want to study so they are interested in the subjects. The mature-age students often blitzed the straight-from-school students. They didn’t stand a chance against that level of motivation.

This is supported by the literature, which characterises adult learners as:

•Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
•Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
•Adults are goal oriented
•Adults are relevancy oriented
•Adults are practical
•Adult learners like to be respected
(Knowles 1970)

So what works for adult learning?

1. Trial and error. Studies demonstrate that adults retain lessons learned the hard way – through making mistakes and understanding the context and reasons for failure. Errorless learning doesn’t “stick”.

2. And on a similar vein, <a href="; title="experiential learning ” target=”_blank”>experiential learning works best for adults, even when it isn’t about making mistakes. Adults are better at remembering things they do (what you did yesterday for instance) than things they read or hear.

3. Observation learning works if there is intention to do the same action. This is similar to the way visualisation works on the brain and on muscle-memory. If the intention to do the action is there and is translated to the motor system rather just the visual system of the brain, then the memory is more likely to embed.

4. Adult learners need to understand why. They tend to resist having ideas and thoughts impressed upon them – as collaborative learners they want to sort through the information and come to their own conclusions.

5. Adults bring their life experiences with them to training or education. They want to use this knowledge and build upon it. They have a lot to offer but also a lot to lose.

6. Generally, adults are in education or training for a specific purpose, They want what they learn to be relevant and practical. They will challenge if it doesn’t seem like it would work in real life.

7. Adult learners have different barriers facing them. They may have job demands, family responsibilities- or commonly, both. Adult education is one more thing they need to juggle in their busy lives. And it is not just about time – it is also about concentration levels and memory space. Let’s hope they are motivated to prioritise their education – but recognise that sometimes they will need to pay more attention to another area of their life.

Some excellent resources are available on the net. One I recommend is :Medscape (you will have to sign up for a free account to access the entire article)

So finally – as someone who seems to be proppin up the university system with my ongoing study and resultant fees debt – what works for me?

– flexibility

– short-term subjects. 10 weeks per subject works beautifully with my busy life

– no group work – I haven’t managed to get out of the group assignments but continually find them frustrating. It is very difficult to get a group of extremely busy adults together to do an assignment, even in the online environment. And there are always passengers – I think everyone knows that.

– really clear instructions. I don;t have time to work out ambiguous instructions, I want to be able to enterall the due dates in my diary and get down to it.

– relevance of subjects – one of the compulsory subjects aI have done for my MBA is finance – which turned out to be about calculating current and future values for bonds, shares and other investments over a series of differnt conditions. As I don’t work in the finance industry and have never had to deal with bonds,this wasn’t very relevant. Happy to do the accouting and economics subjects, still think the finance subject should not have been compulsory.

Well that’s my two cents worth as both a repeat adult learner, and a former lecturer.

What is important to you in education?

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