How do we remember what we learn? What determines whether or not information is processed into our long-term memory? Many education experts, neurologists and psychologists have researched the link(s) between learning and retention and it is still a field with more questions that posited solutions. A few answers to the question of creating long-term memory have been offered. These we will explore over the next several posts. Let’s start with sense and meaning.

Sense and Meaning

David Sousa, international consultant in the field of education neuroscience explains the importance of both sense and meaning to the retention of new information. Information that makes sense but does not have meaning is less likely to be retained. So what is the difference between sense and meaning?

  • Sense: information that is comprehensible to the learner. It makes sense. They can conceptualize the information.
  • Meaning: how this information relates to the learner–his past experiences, his interests, his working knowledge base. Meaning occurs when new information is connected with previous fields of knowledge.

This information suggests that our brain focuses on retaining or remembering what we perceive as useful. When we are working within a MAST workshop it’s important that we focus on the usefulness of the information that we are teaching, and give ample evidence of its meaningfulness wherever possible.

Try the following:  Look at the words in the list below for ten seconds. Then turn away and write as many down as you can in any order.

1. Kef

2. Car

3. Het

4. Jik

5. Dog

6. Rin

7. Sov

8. Cat

9. Yip

10. Big

Which ones did you remember? Did you remember the words that actually have meaning like car, cat, and dog while forgetting the words that aren’t real English words? They make sense, because you know the English alphabet and can pronounce them but they don’t have meaning, since you have no definition, or mental picture to assign to them.

The first step toward retention is for the information to make sense. Our brains are constantly (and without our being conscious of it) attempting to make sense of new input. If information does not make sense, it will be disregarded as not useful. So we want to affirm that our  training of MAST translators is comprehensible. It needs to make sense. That is why we will sometimes use interpreters–to be sure the instruction is being offered in a  way that makes sense.

Once information makes sense, it is important that it also be meaningful. This usually happens when a learner interacts with the material. As MAST translators begin to try the steps, the information they received becomes meaningful. As we will see with other theories of learning and retention, this interaction or personal experience with the material promotes retention. Additionally meaning usually includes some emotional connection with the new material. We feel something about the information.

Consider this example: I have been memorizing verses with my children over the past several weeks. In reviewing them, I often struggle to get started when just the reference is given, except for with one verse: Isaiah 26:8. That verse is imprinted in my long term memory. I know it immediately when the reference is given. “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and your renown are the desires of our hearts.” As I pondered why this verse seems to “stick” better than the others, I realized several things had happened with this verse. First I had picked it after hearing a particularly encouraging sermon on Isaiah 26. Second, I had written a blog post about the application of this verse to our lives. Third I had written a poem about the irony implied in walking and waiting at the same time. Clearly I was moved emotionally by this passage, as I processed its meaning. All of these interactions with this verse have assured it a place in my long term memory.

  1. When have you experienced having a sense of information but not grasping the meaning?
  2. How would you define the difference between sense and meaning?
  3. In what ways does the MAST process become meaningful for our translators?
  4. What emotions might be evoked as we acquire meaning?
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