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Creating different representations

Recent neuroimaging research suggests that repeatedly retrieving information causes it to be represented in the brain in different ways, essentially connecting it with different meanings, so making it easier to retrieve in the future.

A study of Swedish adults learning Swahili showed that brain activation related to their new knowledge became more variable after questioning (in this case, through a test). Variability here suggests questioning is causing the new knowledge to be stored in many different ways (Wirebring et al., 2015).

Just as having many different hats can make it easier to find and use an appropriate hat when you need one, so having many different versions of the new knowledge, linked to different ideas and different associations, makes it easier to find and to use that knowledge later.

Consolidating knowledge and understanding is helped by applying it in new situations, discussing it with others or expressing it in new forms. All these types of activity bring about new associations and meanings, helping to produce new versions of that knowledge and make the knowledge more accessible and useful. In other words, every time a student has to recall and reuse a piece of knowledge, it is stored in a new way in the brain and becomes easier to recall in the future.

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The Science of Learning

National STEM Learning Centre