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What is Long-term Memory?

Long term memory is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a place where information has been successfully encoded for long periods of time so that you can retrieve it later, possibly forever. 


Although, this doesn't mean it is always retrievable when you need it.  This is where retrieval practice and spacing can be really beneficial.


Long term memory is your background knowledge.   It plays an important role in helping us to manage information in our working memory.  Knowing how it functions is helpful in understanding how we learn best.

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The big idea here is that knowing how long term memory works is important for learners to understand, and it can have a big impact on how they we teach and how students learn.  

One of the coolest things I have come to understand about learning is how long term memory works. Specifically, a concept that has really helped me understand my students learning, is the fact that long term memories are reconstructed every time we recall them. 

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The metaphor of computer like memory is not a very good one and is very misleading.  There is no one place in the brain where a memory is stored, it is reconstructed pulling from a multitude of different places every time we retrieve it.  When you retrieve a  memory of something you are rebuilding it with new information or new connections that were not there before.  Each time you retrieve a new memory….It gets changed in some new way by adding on to it or altering it.   This information comes from both working memory, but also vast webs of interconnected information in your head.   These webs are called Schema.  We will talk more about Schema later.     

If you want to learn more about Long-Term Memory:

References I used for this page: 

- Han X, Chen M, Wang F, Windrem M, Wang S, Shanz S, Xu Q, Oberheim NA, Bekar L, Betstadt S, Silva AJ, Takano T, Goldman SA, Nedergaard M. "Forebrain engraftment by human glial progenitor cells enhances synaptic plasticity and learning in adult mice." Cell Stem Cell, 2013 Mar 7;12(3):342-53.

Inda MC, Muravieva EV, Alberini CM. "Memory retrieval and the passage of time: from reconsolidation and strengthening to extinction." Journal of Neuroscience 2011 Feb 2;31(5);1635-43. PMID: 21289172.

Lee HS, Ghettia A, Pinto-Duarte A, Wang X, Dziewczapolskia G, Galimic F, Huitron-Resendizd S, Pina-Crespoa JC, Roberts AJ, Vermac IM, Sejnowski TI, Heinemann SF. "Astrocytes contribute to gamma oscillations and recognition memory," Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, USA,, 2014.
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