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How do you remember?


How do you remember names? This was one of the themes we explored - using clean questions - at our recent Clean for Teams / Systemic Modelling event in Erlangen, Germany. Read more to learn what happened and to discover how our students are using graphics and visual methods to help them retain their learning.

At our recent Clean for Teams / Systemic Modelling event in Erlangen, Germany, we realised we didn’t have any name badges, and then, during our What would you like to know before we begin? segment, no one asked to learn more about other participants in the room. So when, during our Five Senses exercise, someone spoke about being unable to remember other people’s words (a necessary skill for Systemic Modelling) - we realised we could utilise the fact that there’d been no introductions and no name badges to run a ‘theme’ on “How do you remember peoples’ names?”

Group members had many different strategies including having imaginary name labels for everyone, repeating names several times and linking a person’s name with the name of someone they already knew. We then went on to find peoples’ strategies for remembering a list of seven short words. This time, people were making up stories that included the listed words, picturing the items in unusual places and grouping words with similar sounds together. The next step was to try on someone else’s memory strategy and notice what happened.


I was reminded about this activity when one of our students, Doris Leibold, shared her brilliant ‘sketchnote’ summary of the event with the group (above) which included ‘how to remember names’ (look in the green circle):

Of course, sketchnoting itself is a great way to remember things. A recent study by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada found that drawing is better than writing for memory retention:

As part of the studies, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item. Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information—visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

There are umpteen websites where you can read about / learn about sketchnoting, many of which are listed here. And this is not the only visual approach of course. Mind-maps are also thought to improve memory retention and graphic facilitators / recorders use ‘sketchnoting’ type skills in-the-moment to produce large-scale visual maps of seminars for the whole audience. Another of our students, Mike Haber, fresh from a Graphics Facilitation course, produced a map of the 15 conditions for groups to self-model…

... plus another one based on running a theme (we are now full-circle as this blog post started by talking about a theme we ran on the topic of memory!) ...

15 conditions for groups to self-model - by Mike Haber

Of course, you don’t have to be brilliant at drawing - or go on a graphics course or read through lots of ‘how to’ websites in order to produce a visual reminder of a course. Sarah Willcox made her summary of a recent Clean for Teams event using simple computer-based drawing tools:

Clean for Teams summary by Sarah Willcox

How do you remember ... ?

We’d love to hear from you! How do you remember things? People’s names, lists, birthdays, etc. And if you use visual methods to help you retain information, what are they? What works for you? In the meantime, I will leave you with this ingenious chart: 13 reasons why your brain craves infographics.

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20th Apr 2009

By Marian Way

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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