Memorization is inescapable to promote a culture of innovation
By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman
In academic curriculum intellectual skills (commonly referred to as educational objectives) are determined and assessed using the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy. In the cognitive domain, six intellectual skills namely remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create are positioned from a lower to higher order in a hierarchical arrangement.
Arguably, some educationists prefer some intellectual skills to be positioned in parallel dimensions rather than in their common vertical or hierarchical arrangements. Nevertheless, Bloom’s taxonomy in the hierarchical arrangements is used to construct the learning outcomes of a course or an academic program.
“Remember” represents the very first level of intellectual skills in the cognitive domain of the current version of Bloom’s taxonomy proposed in 2001. However, in the original Bloom’s taxonomy proposed in 1956, “remember” had no place in the cognitive domain. In the current version “create” represents the sixth or highest level of intellectual skill in the cognitive domain.
In reality, the ability to remember is the ability to memorize. Thus according to the hierarchical Bloom’s taxonomy, the ability for memorization lays the foundation to “create”, in other words is the key to invention and innovation.
The validity of such a dictum depends on the linear and hierarchical link between the six skills from a lower to a higher level.
Considering innovation as a lifelong business in dynamic sets of puzzles, filling the emerging gaps needs continuous intellectual surveillance parallel to the pace of evolving knowledge and technology.
Such continuous intellectual surveillance requires an up-to-date application, analysis, evaluation, and finally creation of the new knowledge or technology.
How does memorization then play a role in this continuous intellectual surveillance? This can be answered with the analogy of solving puzzles.
Finding the missing piece from a jumble of disordered puzzles requires the ability to remember the shape that is needed to fill the gap. Speed in identifying the right piece determines how fast one can solve the puzzle.
Likewise, innovation is finding a “need gap” and eventually filling the gap with the right piece of knowledge or technology. Innovation that often follows invention depends on the ability to link the existing knowledge and technology and the need gap.
The very ability to link existing knowledge and technology depends on how much information one can keep in one’s memory and how fast one can dig from one’s memory depot.
Naturally, we tend to forget most of our experiences except those that mark a permanent spot in our memory. That prompted neuroscientists to categorize short-term or long-term memories.
While some believe that memorization is a waste of time, it isn’t so for many others.
From a neuroscientific point of view, the ability for long-term memorization is more of a practice than an inherent natural ability. Therefore, during the growing and developmental stages, our children are needed to put in the practice of long-term memorization.
Empirical research has shown that the interaction between remembering and forgetting in the human brain allows us to make more intelligent memory-based decisions. Nevertheless, memorization is important to improve neural plasticity and rhythmic patterns; and prevent cognitive decline. In addition, the practice of memorization from an early age improves the ability to focus on educational tasks.
The ability of long-term memorization along with their critical analytical ability enables students to become successful inventors or innovators. Hence it is not too much to solicit the maxim “the more one can memorize, the more one can create”.
Ironically, assessing the ability of rote memorization is not encouraged in the current methods of assessment in academia. At the same time, students are assessed based on their short-term exposure to a subject matter, say for a semester of 14 weeks. That does not make them repeat and revise any content of a course for a long period of time.
Like it or not, these academic practices deprive students of nourishing their ability for long-term memorization. Consequently, their ability to create new knowledge and technology is compromised.
While launching the Malaysia Centre for 4IR in May, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim reiterated Malaysia’s journey towards becoming a global leader in technology governance and innovation.
Sustainable technology governance and innovation require continuous intellectual surveillance to find and fill the need gap in the evolving industrial revolution.
Can we achieve that without making our future generations who are able to store and dig the right knowledge and technology in and from their memory depot?
In other words, can we achieve that without having a generation with a powerful ability of memorization?
The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]