Context as Memory

Shawn has blogged about how we use or arrange our external environment to give us memory cues, partly based on a wonderfully serendipitous conversation we had yesterday in a bookstore, leaping from title to title and using them as cues for discussion and memory. Externalising our memories is also something a function that taxonomies fulfil, and is my official reason why I never allow anyone else to tidy my desk. It may look a mess, but whenever I have to sift through things to find that bloody document I know is in there somewhere I’m also being re-cued on all those interesting things I set aside to look at later.. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Brain science tells us that we forget things so as to be able to focus our continuing or repeated attention on things that are important to us. It’s a filtering and discarding mechanism. We remember things if we are reminded of them. There’s a wonderful language learning website based on this principle, focused just on the memory aspects of language learning. It tests your memory of the target language by measuring your pauses and hesitations on receptive and productive tasks of the target language presented in context and then recalculates the optimal interval before it presents the language to you again, to lodge it in your long term memory.

The particular genius of this company, Cerego, is that they have also recognised the power of personalised context, so they have made the site a social networking site, where you can scrape content off webpages, videos, photographs, the system will identify the target language within it, and create learning content that you selected. And then you share it. There’s great potential in this approach for memory-intensive knowledge management and corporate learning needs, such as compliance-knowledge and technical knowledge.

But more broadly than this, it suggests that we need to design our environments to be continually reminding us of the things that matter, and not just assuming that if it’s in the database our task is done. We need cycles of reminding and remembering, and environmental cues to support this.


2 Comments so far


Very interesting topic. I stumled upon this article (2007, PDF)...

“Combining Context-Awareness and Semantics
to Augment Memory”

Posted on November 10, 2008 at 04:25 PM | Comment permalink


where can I find Cerego’s Social networking site, it might be useful for me, and i tried the wonderful language learning website, its pretty cool.. now I’m learning kanji.

Posted on November 23, 2008 at 10:29 AM | Comment permalink

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