Memory is a critical mental process and without memory we will be exactly like a machine’s programmed behaviour. We will be capable of nothing but simple reflexes and stereotyped behaviours. Without memory we cannot modify our behaviour, we cannot learn!
Learning is yet another fundamental process; it is the ‘capability’/process that enables us to change our behaviour (in very broad ‘psychological terms’) in response to a stimulus (a new information, a new experience). Learning is the ‘stimulus’ for the memory, or ‘feed for the memory’. A learning brain will be a changing brain due to changing memory.
We can also define learning as a process for ‘acquiring’ or modifying memory. In turn, memory can also be defined as a measure of learning and considered behaviour. Learning and memory are closely related concepts. There would be no learning without memory because learning acts through memory and changes it to reflect changing behaviour. The way learning changes memory can happen in two ways –
- Some past information is re-encoded and re-stored
- Some new information is encoded and stored
Expectedly, learning is a function of a person’s skill in ‘memory management’. An interesting fact on memory management is that one of the most common explanations of ‘poor memory’ is a simple failure to retrieve the information from memory. This often occurs when memory is not routinely accessed for thinking and responses/replies/reactions are reflexive (thoughtless). The brain is rarely learning – rarely changing, causing them to decay over time. We all know that a ‘stimulus-deficit’ environment is a potent degenerative condition for the brain.
Learning and memory are among the most intensively studied subjects in the field of Neuroscience. Various approaches have been used to understand the mechanisms underlying these processes and we don’t know much about both of them yet.
To summarise, learning and memory are like two sides of the same coin – ‘a good learner has a better memory’! A good learner will have faster and well-aligned processes of memory.