New learning attempts to connect with existing schema. In the new learning, if any of it triggers memory of a related item in the schema then the new learning is made easier as the student understands it to be ‘like’ something they already know. The cognitive load of trying to understand the learning is consequently comfortable. If connections can’t be made, the learner is left on their own with the working memory, and therefore at the mercy of its limited capacity.
When meaning is presented in a variety of ways and connections are made between the modes based on the knowledge presented, we see a type of coding that is potentially beyond dual, and may in fact be triple or even quad coding depending on the number of ways it is presented. Because the modes are by nature different in context, when two or more are held in thought simultaneously, a type of analogy between them is formed as the brain evaluates and justifies one against the other. The analogies become elaborations of the topic at hand, with all of the memorable/idiosyncratic contextual aspects of each mode now inextricably connected via that central theme. And pertinently, each contextualised memory cues all the other memories.
This process of comparing and evaluating connections is a type of ‘near’ transfer, and an inadvertent training for the application of knowledge. Providing multiple angles of access to knowledge helps to develop not just a depth of schema, but a breadth too. The need for this breadth is evidenced by Butler when he refers to the finding that encoding variability increases the probability of successful transfer. It is such a breadth that better equips the graduate to negotiate an evolving workplace.
Butler, Andrew. (2010). Repeated Testing Produces Superior Transfer of Learning Relative to Repeated Studying. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 36, 1118-1133. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019902
I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at The University of Adelaide. I’m on Twitter too