The three stages of memory are encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding is the process by which the memory is actually taken into the consciousness. Storage refers to the maintenance of the memory, or the means by which the memory is retained for future use. Retrieval goes to summoning the memory to suit a circumstance or purpose. These stages go to a temporal aspect inevitably linked to memory, meaning they follow a trajectory based upon sequence. This gives a kind of form to memory, and this is valuable in better employing it as an instrument in learning. For example, once the process of encoding is recognized as such, there is a quality of selection present; the individual understands that memories are taken in somewhat deliberately, so there is a greater ability to determine what is of greater value for learning. Similarly, storage is seen as a part of an actual process and not an involuntary action, so being selective as to what is retained becomes more possible.
As learning is largely a matter of taking in valuable information, this understanding empowers the learner. This being the case, a lack of attention to the three stages may impair learning and hinder your abilities. More exactly, without any conscious efforts made to influence it, memory itself becomes randomized and less reliable. Then, as with anything, a lack of attention is likely to dull the processes themselves. Put another way, when anything is allowed to be encoded and stored, retrieval loses value because there is no sense of differing importance to the memories.
I do not perceive myself as having a single memory style, as I believe is true of most people. Memory itself is so connected to living, thinking, and behavior, the ways in which it is processed and used vary widely. On one level, I know I rely greatly on automatic memory, and particularly in regard to education. This is a legacy, I believe, of the associative ways we are taught when young; for example, the teacher “cues” us to recall the learning when the test is presented, and the retrieval process begins. At the same time, I am also subject to emotional memory, and this applies to study more than may seem likely. In plain terms, certain subjects excite me and I associate pleasure with the information I am taking in.
Therefore, I have found that I can actually employ emotional memory by reversing the process. That is, I create an emotional response to the information and this triggers direct encoding, and a kind of “labeling” that allows for easier retrieval. Linked to this is the style of episodic memory, which I also find helpful. I am aware that remembering through episodic association is a limited approach. However, as with emotional memory, it can be turned to advantage through emphasizing the circumstances around me at the time, and consequently “creating” the episode that will give greater impact to the memory.
It seems to me the most striking aspect of the Bobo Doll experiment was the consistent degree of imitative behavior expressed by the children. This, in turn, compels me to reflect on how observation influences my learning, and in a general way. More exactly, I believe that there is a powerful impulse to imitate within myself – and others – simply because behavior engaged in has some element of approval attached to it. This is a strong and visceral inducement, and I think it is something of which to be cautious. Consequently, I try to maintain some distance between myself and what I observe, for fear of automatically imitating. This distance usually takes the form of literal timing; I allow a space of time to pass so that I am more free of the direct influences of what is observed. That said, observation offers a vast arena for learning, and in ways not immediately apparent. For instance, long-term observation can lead to a learning or conclusion deduced from it, rather than directly inspired by it. A simple example of this is me having witnessed rude behavior over many years and in many situations. The cumulative observation here has instilled in me the sense that such behavior, while generating differing reactions, uniformly causes distress to others and damages the stature of the one performing it. I have learned, then, to refrain from such behavior because ongoing observation reveals the unwanted results of it.
The essential difference between classical and operant conditioning lies in how the influences come to be, as both forms of conditioning inevitably reflect how external forces shape learning and behavior. This being the case, classical conditioning may be termed proactive. It is the conditioning occurring to produce an effect, as in the Pavolian models of an environmental stimulus in place to trigger a naturally occurring stimulus. This is about pairing elements to create an association, and actually, create behavior or thinking that is often not spontaneously arising.
Operant conditioning, conversely, is more reactive, in that the consequences of the behavior then dictate the evolution of that behavior. With regard to the classical, an example exists the restaurant that offers soft lighting and comfortable chairs for its guests. The desired result is an appreciation of the food and a willingness to return as a customer, so the pleasing environment is likely to generate a more positive association in the mind of the diner. Importantly, the lights and seating are neutral factors, in that they do not directly go to the natural stimulus that is the object of the conditioning. An example of operant conditioning is the employee who fails to perform their work on time. The manager enters into a process of warnings, followed by the threat of suspension or termination, and at some point, the employee then voluntarily adjusts their behavior to conform with what is expected.
As noted, classical conditioning is based on the creation of associations linking external factors or forces with natural reactions desired. It is a process of forging a solid link in the mind between the elements, and making a pathway from the neutral stimulus to the natural. This may be seen when, as a child, I was guided by rules about watching TV connected to doing my homework. More exactly, as I did not voluntarily do my homework regularly, my parents made it clear that I could stay up late to watch TV when my homework was done. In a sense, I learned that performing Point A would move me to Point B, which I desired. Operant conditioning goes more to redirecting behavior or learning already in place and is a more reactive measure. This is not to imply that operant conditioning is solely about negation; on the contrary, offering rewards for a continued type of behavior is operant because it is reacting to what already exists and for the purpose of promoting more of the same.
This usage of reward may reflect operant conditioning as much as punishment does, for both are forms of reinforcement. Reward directly reinforces behavior in place, as punishment reinforces the idea that change must be made. However it occurs, the learning is based on the primal process of gratification as a result of behavior, or a lack of gratification ensuing from a failure to comply. Fear of punishment or anticipation of pleasure, while very different emotions, nonetheless go to directing the individual’s choices as to behavior.