You do of course remember something from Memory Part 1 last month? Homer Simpson? That’s not just me being flippant. You may initially not have recalled anything, but may well then find that the mention of Homer Simpson brings back the cartoon, the comment and even some of the non-Homer content of last month’s learning blog.


This tells us a lot about how memory works. In simple terms, things get broken down and stored in different areas of the brain. We store different things in different ways in different places, but all these things can connect via networks. So you may not always need to remember heaps of details if the right triggers can help you recall what you need. And don’t panic that it doesn’t always happen instantly. We’ve all had the experience of thinking something is forgotten, only for it to reappear a little later, in there somewhere all along.

Anyone remember Professor Robert Winston, a top surgeon who also became a popular TV science presenter? He once did a programme with memory champion Andy Bell. Andy discusses his strategies for amazing feats of memory, such as associating seemingly random sets of numbers with similar sets of numbers, such as athletics records. They conduct an experiment that would work, for example, for anatomical learning or features, symptoms of a particular condition, sequences of treatment protocols etc. Andy gives the professor a list of 29 random things and asks him to assign them to the rooms of his house. As I recall, he pairs some of them up, so ‘swan’ and ‘piano’ are put together as a swan playing the piano in the dining room.

After a very busy day travelling across London and performing surgical procedures, the professor returns home and despite his apparent doubts that he will remember the items he successfully recalls them all, sat at his kitchen table working his way round his house in his head. Ok, sceptics can say this was a bit staged and maybe even edited, but the strategy is certainly useable. It’s not a million miles away from those mnemonic sentences that a few of us were sharing on the SIF Facebook group a while back. Interestingly, different ones work for different people, largely due to what we connect with, again to do with wider memorable features such as who gave us the sentence, where, when, exam we used it in etc. We’ll return to connecting in another blog.

This seems to be about enriching or rehearsing pieces of information so that there is plenty of ways our brains can recall them. There is a number of models and theories, but in essence it goes something like this:

Jon's memory model

The other thing I want to raise today connects with what I have previously said about needing to interact in a variety of different ways with information that we are trying to learn, in order to consolidate it somewhere in memory. With this in mind I’d like to introduce you to American psychologist Robert Gagné and what is known as Gagné’s Five Domains of Learning. Gagné was not the first nor the last to theorise about this, but I think his domains chime with therapist learning, as we often need to use our knowledge and information in different ways, which therefore gives us a variety of ways to reinforce that knowledge. I’m going to lay these out to finish with this month and leave you to ponder on how these might pan out in your professional learning. We’ll return to them in next month’s blog.

Gagné’s Five Domains of Learning

Intellectual: working with concepts and rules to solve problems

Motor: using movements efficiently

Verbal: articulating information

Cognitive: creating new solutions, managing own thinking and learning

Attitude: chosen behaviours

Keep learning!