The Searchers vs The Rememberers

I’ve been having some good conversations with younger and older people around what’s worth committing to memory and what’s not.

Best told by sharing bits of those conversations…

I have an iPad with many, many apps which I have put into folders (like Games1, Games2 and Games3). So they’re organised, but of course I still forget where every single app is. When I’ve been methodically opening folders and looking for that elusive app, more than one 8 – 10 year old has calmly said ‘Why don’t you just search for it?’. To which I respond, ‘It’s OK, I know it’s here somewhere’, and keep opening folders, and keep looking…..

I was at an BBQ recently and some of the younger people had some music on which sounded like Bollywood disco to me – another adult said ‘What is that music?’. Quickly taking out my iPhone, I fired up Shazam and had the answer in about 10seconds (I still find this a form of magic by the way). Move to the next day when the Narnia movie ‘Prince Caspian’ was on at home. At the end, as the credits scrolled, we listened to a simple but moving song. My wife wanted to find out the name of the song, so we waited while the credits scrolled by, waiting for the name of the song to appear. An 8 year old in the room said ‘Why don’t you just Shazam it?’ She had made the link between how we found the name of the song at the BBQ the day before, and the use of that tool to help us now find the name of the song. Needless to say, Shazam gave us the answer before the credits had finished.

Parallel to these conversations I’ve been chatting with fellow adults who are lamenting that children don’t have to remember much these days, they just ‘search’. This has opened up some intriguing ideas about learning and what is worth learning.

So far my impressions are that the kids are applying skill in recognising the mass of available information and dealing with it by ‘searching’. I think some of us adults apply the knowledge environment of our youth – the adults in the house, the local library, the encyclopedia in the home, the TV, newspaper and the radio. Much of it unsearchable and only available when someone else decided to send it you. They apply this model to the current knowledge environment, see the kids searching instead of committing to memory and perceive it as a retrograde step in education.

Sometimes there is also an apocalypse scenario – “What if Google et al collapse – how will the kids know anything then?” Reminds me of how pocket calculators were supposed to result in an innumerate generation….

So my take is that there are easily enough smart kids out there already using their minds to get the mass of available information to work for them.

And one last point: who says they don’t commit a lot to memory? Maybe they just don’t limit themselves to remembering discrete facts (Shazam one day, wait for movie credits the next day – which is how I was working) but also focus on linking information to get it to work for you more quickly (the 8 year old who made the cognitive link: Shazam helped us yesterday, see if it can help us today).



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2 responses to “The Searchers vs The Rememberers

  1. Hey I enjoyed your post

    I totally understand where you are coming from – one minute using a tool and the next going back to the ‘old’ way – even though the tool is sitting right there in front of you – The majority of the time I still find myself actively thinking about using certain the tools rather than being naturally inclined to search. Although I am getting much better and no longer go through the finder on my Mac to find docs, programmes, people’s email addresses etc. rather just using the little magnifying glass in the top toolbar! Took a while to train myself to do this!

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say “This has opened up some intriguing ideas about learning and what is worth learning.” Do we need to be making a distinction between memorising and learning ie. what is worth memorising being facts and figures and content and what is learnt being skills and competencies.

    It feels to me like in schools we set up contexts to teach skills but assessment often means we end up assessing (and therefore teaching) content. Say for example English programmes where students study a text – but the purpose of studying that text is only to give a context to learning the skills – ie. reading for information, applying a text to wider society. However, as soon as this is transferred into an assessment task the students by enlarge use the assessment as an opportunity to wrote-learn essays, regurgitate facts about the text – and often write about the teacher’s analysis of this text rather than apply their own analysis – meaning that our skills based assessment has turned into content based…

    I think I got a bit off topic here! But thanks for making me think!!!


    • Toni,
      Exactly – it’s that nexus between what schools used to be really good at and what learning is today. I like your comment about how we teach skills and assess retention of content.
      It’s a cliche, but I keep coming back to it for myself: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn.