Is the affective context model of memory true?

by Viv Cole on December 16, 2019

I’ve enjoyed reading Nick Shackleton-Jones’s book “How people learn” and a subsequent talk by him. Although I like the direction that he’s trying to nudge corporate L&D in, I have a few reservations about the ‘science bit’.

Whilst I agree that mainstream psychology seems to have gone down a blind alley with experiments testing recall of random things, I doubt Nick’s claim that emotion is the only factor in town when it comes to memory.

Nick gives an example of trigrams (3 letter words), some of which are nonsense and some are real words. Recall of the real words is higher than the nonsense. I hypothesise that the difference in recall of the words is down to whether they are “meaningful” rather than have “emotional impact”. Whilst emotion is powerful for memory, there are other types of meaningful that make a difference eg linkages and connections, information being presented in a coherent way, mnemonics, the generation effect (eg DeWinstanley and Bjork https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758%2FBF03196872).

Let me illustrate with a couple of ways of presenting similar information (the aim is for people who are not that interested in football to remember who won the FA cup in 3 years). For the sake of balance I should point out that I’m a Liverpool fan in a happy state of bewilderment about how well it’s going.

Option A – the facts

Table of FA cup winners

Option B – the facts put into a meaningful context

Arsenal had a remarkable run in the FA cup in the late seventies. In 1979 they won the FA cup in a topsy-turvy game against Manchester United. Arsenal were comfortable at 2-0 until with 5 minutes to go Manchester United came back to 2-2 before Arsenal snatched a last-minute winner to win the final 3-2. The epic 1979 final is surrounded by two examples of Arsenal being beaten in the final by two less fancied sides. In 1978 Ipswich were the giant killers and 1980 it was West Ham’s turn. Arsenal lost both of these finals 1-0.

I think that for most people Option B would be more memorable. I’ve tried to write it in a way that adds in meaning but no emotion.

I’ll leave you with a Star Trek thought experiment: if the affective context model of memory was true would a Vulcan remember anything?

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What do you take away from the Game of Life?

by Viv Cole on April 17, 2019

Easter holidays. A great time when we break out the board games in the Cole household. A particular favourite is The Game of Life (published by Hasbro). As a learning designer who often creates mini games for business purposes, I’m always interested in the subtext of a game – the behaviours and tactics that get rewarded with points and hence the model of how the world works that the game is implicitly teaching. [click to continue…]

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Three things I learned from making it into the UK top 200

March 19, 2019

The rapidly changing business environment means that increasingly people need T-shaped skills profiles (deep expertise in one or more domains and a broad awareness of several areas). As change accelerates, people will need to reinvent the vertical part of their T more often. The conventional wisdom (Gladwell et al.) is that it takes 10,000 hours […]

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Subject matter experts – time for a re-brand?

November 15, 2018

The last 20 years has seen the evolution of terminology from Computer-Based Learning to e-learning to digital learning (and beyond). One term that has been static is SME (subject matter expert). Given how much the world and technology has changed in that time, is it time for a re-think? One Big Four firm has already […]

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Three ways GDPR changes life for L&D managers

April 6, 2018

GDPR is one of e-learning’s hot topics in 2018. Here’s a blog that I co-wrote with Brightwave’s Head of QA, Simon Hollobon, on how it will affect L&D managers when they have a breathing space from getting learning to their colleagues about GDPR.

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Learning objectives are like metadata – useful but best left unseen

November 1, 2017

An update on a post about learning objectives which attracted a healthy amount of support and debate: refinements to that position and what it means in practice for learning designers. One of the richest compilations of high quality thinking is Will Thalheimer’s. If you can’t spare 30 minutes to watch the video, here are my key take […]

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Three essential charts about learners for L&D business partners to show their stakeholders

October 4, 2017

As noted before, many factors have made it harder for L&D professionals to know their learners really well. This means that L&D initiatives are more exposed to guesswork and questionable opinions of other business stakeholders about what good learning looks like e.g. “the way I learned this was” , “the way that my kids are learning is all […]

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Why the time is right for self-managed learning

May 31, 2017

In 1990 Peter Senge published “The Fifth Discipline” , giving a compelling vision of how companies could transform into learning organisations. The ideas chime with many L&D professionals, but adoption by business has been patchy. As both Towards Maturity and Bersin have recently launched reports on self-managed learning, it reminded me of a project I […]

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I don’t want “to understand” in my learning objectives

November 21, 2016

Learning objectives are core tools of the trade in learning design. If you can state “By the end of this course/e-learning/other, a learner will be able to X”, you have a focus for your design and a means for reviewers to check that the learning journey will get to its intended destination. I’ve noticed in […]

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Five more ingredients for compliance e-learning excellence

October 17, 2016

Once again I had the privilege to judge the e-learning awards (now called the Learning Technology Awards). When I last judged the compliance category two years ago I wrote Five ingredients for compliance e-learning excellence. It was great to see that many of the entries reflected these five ingredients and the general improvement in learner […]

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