Whether you're taking a course, trying to teach yourself a new skill, learn a new tech platform or process, optimizing your memory in the midst of our society's constant information overload is critical.
The good news is that none of these techniques are complicated. The bad news is that they do require time - time away from that information overload when you can focus on one thing only.
In the early 20th Century, a pair of German psychologists discovered that sitting still, doing nothing for a few minutes after learning new information radically improved the amount of information recalled. This result has since been replicated many times.
New memory patterns are particularly vulnerable to disruption by further new information - if you go from one set of new information to another to another, it's likely you won't recall any of it particularly well. Sitting still and doing nothing lets the new mental connections form.
Even a very brief period of light physical activity has shown immediate results for boosting memory, according to a study that used fMRI scans to map brain activity of participants. The hippocampus, a region of the brain important for memory, which deteriorates in people with dementia, is stimulated by exercise.
Sleep is essential for memory consolidation. Slow-wave sleep and REM sleep (the dream state) each have a role to play in stimulating recently-formed connections so that they stabilize and move into long-term memory. As one article in Physiological Reviews puts it, "newer findings characterize sleep as a brain state optimizing memory consolidation, in opposition to the waking brain being optimized for encoding of memories."
Fascinatingly, there are other forms of memory being consolidated other than that of the waking mind - the immune system also has a memory that is affected by sleep.
Kinesic and Creative Memory
Your brain forms neural connections differently when you are doing something in the process of learning, as opposed to absorbing passively. That's why handwritten notes may be a superior form of learning to type-written notes or simply listening to recorded instruction, given the greater distinctiveness of the movements involved. Making physical charts, flash cards or cheat sheets can also help the information sink in by using the information in a creative process.