Friday 19 December 2014

Foreground and Background Retention

Having read the fascinating blog post by David Didau (@LearningSpy) Revisiting Lost Learning by Gerald HaighI started to think about learning and retention and how the retention of new information can differ depending on the length of time after it has been initially learnt.

This led me to the idea of foreground and background retention.

Foreground retention is where information is easily retrievable from the brain. Foreground retention would occur immediately after learning something. One example is in the classroom where the teacher teaches a new concept to his or her class. This concept is in foreground retention while the students practise during that lesson. It could still be in foreground retention for a while afterwards. Another situation is when students are cramming for exams. They place information into foreground retention for long enough to enable them to succeed in their exams but not for very long after. I suppose the key for teachers is to attempt to keep as much information and skills in foreground retention as possible.

Once information/skills have left foreground retention, they move into background retention. This is a situation where as David puts it, people 'know they know it' but are unable to retrieve it easily. This information is not lost, it is sitting dormant, waiting to be brought back into foreground retention. In order to bring skills/information from background retention into foreground retention, it has to be directly re-visited in some way. As Haigh explains, it can be re-learnt quicker than if it were  being learnt for the first time.

Many people say that information they learnt to be able to pass exams was forgotten pretty much as soon as they had finished the exams. In fact Michael Rosen said as much when commenting on a blog post by David Didau. I would suggest that what is happening is that this information being learnt for the purpose of exams merely moves from foreground retention to background retention once the exams have finished.

I am not suggesting that I am breaking any new ground here. I am merely trying to make sense of what is a fascinating concept which has been, as always, eloquently examined and explained by David Didau.

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