A popular song comes on the radio and you can remember almost every line, even if it’s been five years since you last heard it. Yet you struggle to remember things from the study notes you read five minutes ago.
Perhaps the reason is the human brain’s natural inclination towards patterns, and its propensity to search for them at every opportunity. The patterns present in music, particularly in catchy song lyrics, worm their way into the brain to the extent that people may occasionally catch themselves singing lines from songs they don’t even like.
Some researchers speculate that our relationship with song lyrics is a product of evolution. Prehistoric cultures would pass down important information in the form of songs, and many cultures still do. The Australian Aboriginals, for example, have songs that effectively serve as maps, describing various landmarks in a sequence that once enabled tribes to navigate the Australian outback.
Of course, it could be that people simply enjoy listening to songs a lot more than they do lectures, and are thus, more likely to remember them. Most people would rather try (and fail) to sound like John Lennon singing ‘A Day in the Life’ than attempt to emulate their finance professor reciting accounting principles after all.
The question is whether this ability to learn by listening to repeated phrases can be turned to our advantage.
The Benefits of auditory learning
Audio recordings are commonly employed as a language learning tool, allowing students to become familiar with key phrases and pronunciations. This method can also be implemented as a general study tool, as students can record sections of their study notes and play them back as if they were listening to a condensed version of the lecture.
Benefits of this method include:
Learning while asleep
Although it’s not quite at the level depicted in some science-fiction films, research has shown that utilizing subliminal learning methods by listening to audio recordings whilst asleep can be moderately effective. Studies of brain activity during sleep have shown that it is capable of producing new memories, and of reacting selectively to stimuli.
In one study, participants were taught two simple piano melodies, and then took a 90-minute nap whilst one of the melodies played quietly on repeat for a few minutes. Their rate of success when it came to accurately recalling both melodies was 4% greater for the tune that had been played while they were asleep.
Learning on the go
Recording and playing back study notes turns every routine activity into an opportunity for further study. The time that might otherwise have been spent stressing over work can be used to keep information fresh in your mind, whether riding the bus or working out at the gym.
Learning more effectively
Not everyone learns in the same way. Some people are visual learners, some prefer the written word, and some learn through interaction. According to Wikipedia, around 20% of the population is auditory learners, meaning they find it easier to retain information that has been delivered to them verbally.
While some students may feel that they have a solid idea of their strengths and weaknesses, most have yet to determine which learning methods best suit them. Auditory learning presents another option for them, and who knows, it may be the one they were looking for.
Recording study notes
For this method to be effective, it helps if the recording is made up of concise phrases that summarize the information contained within the study notes. Establishing some kind of pattern or rhythm will also aid retention.
No, you don’t have to write a song about your computer science syllabus, but putting a little bit of thought into the presentation will help you derive maximum benefit from the method. The very process of summarizing your notes in this way can play an important role in learning.
One thing seems clear, and that is that auditory learning can be a highly effective complement to the usual study methods.
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