When something has meaning for an individual it is personally significant in some way. When we create greater depth of meaning (making learning more relevant), more cells in the brain develop more memory pathways with more and more complex neural connections. It is firmly woven into the brain and more likely to be committed to long-term memory and be retrieved when needed.
How can students be helped to connect to what they are learning in personally meaningful ways? Can they answer the "why bother" question for themselves?
- Creating many ways of learning something and using all 4 memory pathways (semantic, episodic, procedural & reflexive) will help student’s ability to access what they have learned faster and more easily.
- Learning experiences can be created so that they are personally meaningful for students. To increase the chance of that happening the information or experience must be seen as relevant (impact learner’s personal life), engage emotion, and create patterns.
- Patterns are created when new information is organized and associated with information that has already been learned. Pointing out these patterns is important when helping students create meaning.
- Relevance asks the “why bother?” question. When something is seen as relevant, neurons that already exist connect with nearby neurons to create more links resulting in more neural territories, which strengthens memory. Helping students connect content to their lives is an important consideration.
- To increase the chance of the “what” being relevant to more people, we can plan to teach/learn the topic in more than one way - using episodic, procedural and reflexive memory strategies.
- Using stories and metaphors help people make personal connections to the content.
- Setting personal goals creates unique connections. We can engage emotions and create meaning by having students set personal goals and providing the means for them to achieve them. In order to fully engage emotion in this process, goals along with reasons for wanting to reach those goals should be shared with another person.