Your Personal Search Engine

Did you know that Google has a rival? It’s your own private search engine. It’s working away quietly in the background in your brain, and in fact, you can’t leave home without it! It reminds you which streets to take, which bus to catch and about the conversation you were having with your friend a week ago. We know our personal search engine is there because, when it isn’t working properly, life becomes very difficult. People who suffer from dementia struggle to remember something they heard a few minutes before, or even their own name. We may hear that someone has ‘lost their memory’, and what that means is that their search engine isn’t working properly. The information is most likely still there, floating somewhere in their heads, but they can’t retrieve it. That word ‘retrieval’ tells us what our search engine does. It picks up a thought, such as “I went to the ….”, and in a flash, it finds from our memory-bank of words ‘supermarket’ and adds that into the sentence. When we learn something new, we need to practice retrieving it from our memory, but retrieval often gets very neglected. We tend to think of teaching as being what happens when someone else ‘teaches’ – or explains something to us. We listen, or hope we are listening, and that is it. Or maybe we are told to read five pages from a boring text book for homework. Will we remember it when we are asked to do a test next week? Probably not! But that’s only part of the problem. While the teacher is busy explaining, your personal search engine is maybe taking a coffee break. It’s only when the teacher says “Sipho, tell us what the last three points were that I’ve just described,” that the search engine drops the coffee cup, recognises that ‘Sipho’ is ME, and hunts around to retrieve those three pieces of information that the teacher is asking for. Retrieval is probably the most neglected word in the whole process of learning and education. No matter how much the teacher explains, no matter how many pages of text your eyes run over, if you can’t retrieve the information, you will have learned nothing. We need to practice retrieval. We need to practice getting all that information out of our heads, and not be content to just drop it in there in the hope we will find it again one day. So, next time a friend asks what you’ve been doing all afternoon, instead of saying ‘studying’, you should say ‘retrieving’. If your study methods are good, you should have been putting that search engine of yours to work, pulling out from your memory all that vital information that was stored away there during the morning’s teaching session. Scientists have worked out that our personal search engines need to be given lots of practice. Not only that, but just like doing workouts in the gym, they thrive on interval training. “What’s that?” I can hear you ask. It means that you need to practice retrieving information soon after you first store it away – just the way the good teacher was doing for Sipho. Let’s say you should do a few retrievals within 5 to 15 minutes after the initial learning. Then, you should do another retrieval one or two hours later. And then, again after a few days. Your search engine will love this. It thrives on doing retrievals, and so will you! The good news is that the SkillWise training is designed to space out your retrieval practice along the lines described above. As you repeat the exercises and retrieve the information from your brain again, and again, you’ll find yourself increasingly gaining confidence and enjoying the feeling of success. This tends to have a ripple-on effect, and before long, you will find that your new confidence is affecting all areas of your life. SkillWise graduates walk tall!

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