Improving your memory skills

A general interest course for those who want to sharpen their abilities at learning & remembering

This is NOT a course for those wishing to become “memory champions” or to acquire a “photographic memory”. This is for people who don’t want to go to extraordinary efforts, but rather want to improve their skills at everyday memory and learning situations.

US$95 / £60 / Є75 / NZ$110+GST / AU$90

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The course is run by Dr Fiona McPherson, cognitive psychologist, author of four books on memory & learning, and creator of the long-running and extensive Mempowered website.

The course includes tests to assess your cognitive skills, short videos, downloadable audio, downloadable book chapters & articles, worksheets, plus guided instruction in mastering the strategies and exercises to practice them.

The course is designed to be taken in the student’s own time, however Dr McPherson will be available to discuss problems and answer questions in forum or by email.


What you’ll learn

The basic principles of how memory works, and how these apply in different memory situations and to different memory strategies.

What factors affect your memory, and the changes in your habits that can improve your memory.

How to recognize difficult memory situations, and ways to deal with them.

How to practice effectively, to maximize learning.

How to improve your attention & focus.

A ‘tool-box’ of general & specific memory strategies you can apply in common memory and learning situations.

Memory situations covered include:

Remembering information

Remembering future intentions & events

Keeping track of what you’re doing

Remembering names & faces

Learning a new skill


Course outline


Unit 1: What you can & can’t expect from your memory

1.1: What’s normal

What types of memory failure are normal and common, and which aren’t; what memory failures matter and what don’t. What sort of cognitive aspects change as you age, and which don’t (a very brief look at age-related change — the course for those at mid-life explores this in much more detail).

1.2: What factors affect your memory

How beliefs and strategy use affect how well you remember and learn.


Unit 2: How memory works

To use memory strategies effectively — to know when & how to use which strategy — it pays to have some understanding of the principles involved in making them work.

2.1: Basic principles of memory

The basic principles that underlie how memory works, that affect which memory strategies work well and when they work well.

2.2: How memories are retrieved

The basic principles underlying retrieval (finding a specific memory). Why tips-of-the-tongue occur. Retrieval strategies to practice.

2.3: How memories are encoded

Why encoding is so critical, how it works, and why ‘working memory’ is so vital. How your individual working memory capacity affects learning, understanding, and memory. Why the distinction between verbatim and gist is so important, and why rote repetition is a bad strategy.


Unit 3: Preparing your mind

3.1: Priming

Why getting yourself in the right mental space helps you make connections more easily. Priming strategies.

3.2: Setting & articulating goals

How you can improve your chances of successful encoding by thinking about your specific goals and potential retrieval situations. A special focus on memory for future intentions and events.

3.3: Emotion regulation & attentional control

On how emotions (such as anxiety & stress) can reduce your effective working memory capacity, reducing your chance of encoding well. How to deal with it. How to improve your ability to focus.


Unit 4: Selecting what needs to be remembered

4.1: Reducing cognitive load

Why the concept of ‘cognitive load’ is so important. How you can recognize when cognitive load is too high, and how you can reduce it. A special focus on multi-tasking.

4.2: Elaboration

Why elaborating information to remember can actually reduce cognitive load. How to use elaboration to make connections & promote distinctiveness. Verbal mnemonic strategies that can be used for unrelated information or when verbatim memory is required.

4.3: Imagery

How mental imagery and imagination can make connections & promote distinctiveness. Visual mnemonics that can be used when you can’t see any natural connections, or when verbatim memory is required (such as when learning a new language).

4.4: Social interaction

How you can use ‘outsourcing’ to reduce cognitive load, and when it’s a bad idea. Conversational skills that can improve your chances of successful encoding.


Unit 5: Organizing for better recall

More strategies for making connections clear.

5.1: Labeling

Why simple verbal labels can make a big difference to your ability to remember something. How to make good labels.

5.2: Asking questions

How to ask questions that show connections and help you connect new memories to old.

5.3: Making comparisons

How to make comparisons that show connections and help you connect new memories to old.

5.4: Visual organizing

How to create visual outlines to display information, increasing your ability to make and see connections.


Unit 6: How to practice

6.1: Retrieval practice

The best way to practice, why it’s effective, and how it applies in different situations.

6.2: Distributed practice

How to space your retrieval practice for optimal recall.

6.3: Deliberate practice

The best way to practice skills. How to do it effectively.

6.4: Self-monitoring

The importance of monitoring; how to do it effectively; what to watch out for. Using reflection strategies.


Unit 7: Becoming a strategic thinker

7.1: Assessing the memory situation

How to assess different memory tasks, in different contexts.

7.2: Matching the memory situation with the right strategy

What you need to consider when choosing a memory strategy.