Learn your ABCs, learn the Periodic Table, learn when to say no. Which are memorization exercises and which represent learning? And does it make a difference how one acquires knowledge as long as it gets stuffed into the grey matter between the ears?
Apparently, it does matter according to Oakland high-school teacher and tutor, Ben Orlin, “Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.”
The meaning of ‘memorizing’ is often and obviously defined as ‘to commit to memory’. The definition of ‘memory’ has been characterized as the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained, especially through associative mechanisms.
Simply stated, learning fosters understanding, which can then be stored in one’s memory banks as a guidepost for future learning. Grasping the underlying meaning, purpose and idea behind an experience, concept or philosophy, enables a person to explain the essence of something in their own words.
Memorizing puts forth ideas literally; learning provides for educated interpretations. Memorizing does not create concepts; it merely stores them for future use. Learning stretches what is, into what could be.
As long as facts are being dumped into our brain, why does it matter? Facts are facts no matter the input process, right? Not exactly. Let’s suppose for a minute you have a fact, or group of facts, which are important for the completion of a particular project, any project.
The facts you have in your mind have brought you to an uncharted crossroad in your work, with forward progress dependent on the next decision, or set of decisions you make. Without a ‘factual’ roadmap to guide you – something you have memorized – on what basis do you make a decision if you haven’t ‘learned’ how to create, plan or function in the absence of that roadmap? How do you access knowledge that hasn’t been memorized?
Think of memorization as a cornerstone of thought and action. They provide raw source material from which ‘learned’ concepts can materialize. From these learned concepts, new theories, experiences, and policies can then be memorized for thought evolution. Call it the cycle of learning; the process of understanding the facts for the purpose of expanding their meaning.
“Memorizing information is valuable but only if you’re able to make some sense of the information and put it into a useful context. Isn’t it much better if we can attach something tangible to that information?” – Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much About Geography: Everything You Need to Know About the World but Never Learned.
Of course, like most things, the discussion between memorizing and learning can come down to a matter of perspective and usage. For students in the process of learning, memorizing facts for the purpose of passing tests can prove useful, even if those facts are forgotten shortly after class.
For those in the real world, understanding the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of facts are necessary for creating new pathways of knowledge and progress. Learning, in all its forms, must begin from a solid foundation. Without the factual awareness memorization can provide, learning would have no structural cornerstones on which to build the future. And so the cycle continues.
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