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How to improve short term memory


February 10, 2024


Guest Author Daniel Brown


how to improve short term memory

Learning and memory are closely linked. While learning involves the acquisition of skills and knowledge, memory is the expression of what has been acquired.

These two concepts can also be differentiated based on the speed at which both processes happen. If the acquisition of new skills or knowledge is slow then it is classified as learning. However, if this happens instantly it becomes part of a memory.

To make sense of memory and its properties, it can be split into three categories: Long-term, short-term, and working memory. In terms of learning – particularly for training in professional environments – the focus is on embedding learning concepts into long-term memory, which is a common challenge for businesses to master.

converting short term memory to long term - brain boost

Memory process

In order to understand memory and knowledge retention in any context, we must understand the principles behind them and other words for memories. Some questions you'd like to have answered would be: how many pieces of information can short term memory hold, how long does sensory memory last, what is the process by which information gets into memory, and where are long term memories stored. Memory is an active, reflective, and subjective process of previous experiences. The formation of memory is generally classified into three memory processes or three stages of memory in order:

Encoding: This process is involved in memory formation and depends on three factors:

1. Content: The type of content to be encoded can be impacted by the structure, size, and subject of the content and the learner’s familiarity with it.
2. Environment: These are the conditions that can either inhibit or stimulate the process of memorization. (Ex: Temperature, humidity, socio-economic conditions, etc).
3. Subjective: These external variable factors that affect the process of encoding. (Ex: Fatigue, motivation, interest, etc.)

Storing: This is the second process wherein the encoded information is preserved for future use. In this process, the information is stored, transformed, and reorganized with new reference points. Information is stored based on 3 levels of memory:

1. Long-term memory: This memory is used for storing and recalling information at a later stage. Emotions play a major role in the systems of memory and of recall. The stronger the emotions caused by memory, the easier it is to recall the event.
2. Short-term memory: This type of memory lasts only between 20-30 seconds before they begin decaying rapidly. Short-term memory can be improved by repeatedly rehearsing the content.
3. Working memory vs short term memory: Working memory is often confused with short-term memory. This memory is the “go-between” short-term and long-term memories. This memory is used for memorizing information and using it later for task completion.

Retrieving: This process involves accessing the stored information through recall or recognition. Recall happens by uncovering information from memory, which could be a fact, object, or event.

SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s spaced repetition feature, Brain Boost (available upon request only), builds on the process of memory processing and drawing on both the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve and the highly-regarded Supermemo SM-2 interval algorithm. With these two resources, backed by everything we know about memory, Brain Boost works behind the scenes to ensure that all of your learners are learning and more importantly retaining all of your content.

evidence around spaced repetition

To activate the Brain Boost feature within SC Training (formerly EdApp), simply navigate to your chosen course and select ‘Brain Boost’ from the menu of options (below).

Brain Boost

From there, simply switch the toggle:

Enable Brain Boost

What are the 3 stages of memory?

Remembering something is a three-stage process: encoding, storage, retrieval.


A memory begins as a collection of sensory input—what we see, smell, taste, hear, and touch. This input needs to be converted into one of three brain storage formats: a picture, a sound, or a meaning. For example, audio signals which are connected with visual symbols become “words” with definitions—a combination of the sound and meaning storage formats.


The encoded items need to be stored somewhere. The brain has three options: short-term memory, working memory, and long-term memory.


The goal of the memory process is retrieval or “remembering.” In other words, as required, one or more encoded formats are “displayed” in our mind’s eye.

Parts of the brain involved in memory

Where is short term memory located?

Short-term memory is represented by simple patterns of neural communication, present in these regions of the brain:

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Frontal lobe
  • Parietal lobe.

The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for moving information from short-term to long-term, however, it does not store the information itself.

Photo Credit: IFL Science

Short Term Memory - Prefontal Cortex

Where is long term memory located?

Long-term memory is produced by the hippocampus’s changes in neural connections which are spread throughout the brain. Parts of the brain associated with storing long-term memories are:

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Cerebrum
  • Frontal lobe
  • Medial temporal lobe.

Although, the permanent storage of long-term memories depends on the depth of connections between neurons. In other words, a long term memory with stronger connections are the ones we have deeply processed.

How long does short term memory last?

According to Atkinson and Shiffrin (1971), short term memory psychology definition lasts between 15 and 30 seconds. This figure, however, can range from mere seconds up to one minute, depending on rehearsal or active maintenance.

An active rehearsal strategy means taking a moment for a quick mental note, and it can be as simple as repeating the new information aloud or mentally repeating it three to five times. Simply reading or listening to information without active rehearsal means that the information will remain for seconds. On the other hand, repeating the information and even creating a mental association is more likely to be stored in an example of short term memory for a minute (or even longer).

This also depends on mental capacity of short term memory, meaning the brain can retain new information if it isn’t already “full.” This is one of the reasons why microlearning is the most effective form of learning, as it shares new content in small bursts which gives the learner a higher chance of understanding the concept and, more importantly, retaining it. To extend past the minute mark, other practices can be introduced to further revise and cement the concept into not only short term memory but also long term.

How to convert short term memory to long term

  1. Carefully pay attention to new information and make a conscious effort to remember it.
  2. Structure and organize information effectively to assist in the improvement of memory retention. Relate it to existing information to make it meaningful.
  3. Repeat the information to be able to internalize and recall when it is required.
  4. Prompt the retrieval of previous knowledge to reduce the chances of memory decay.
  5. Keep your brain in shape by doing mentally stimulating activities.

What is short term memory loss?

Basically, the definition of short-term memory loss is being unable to retrieve the encoded formats (or a type of encoding memory) of recent episodic events. In other words, you cannot remember things you saw, did, or heard just a short term memory time ago. Examples include: being unable to answer in the evening about what you had for lunch several hours earlier; missing doses of a new medicine because you forget to take it, and leaving the shopping mall and not remembering where you parked the car. While occasional forgetting can happen to us all, especially about the car, it is the frequency that is the deciding factor.

Short-term memory example loss can be a normal outcome of aging. On the other hand, it can point to an underlying issue such as brain injury or a neurological (brain) disease.

What affects short term memory?

First of all, everyone’s brains are different at birth. Some of these are caused by genetics. Others can be caused by prenatal conditions (while the unborn fetus is inside the mother) such as maternal smoking, drug use, or other unhealthy habits.

Once the child is born, the brain is at risk from a whole range of potential dangers. Weak spots on the walls of brain arteries called aneurysms can rupture (burst). When they do, blood can flood into the area around the brain, increasing the cranial (head) pressure, and causing damage to brain cells. If these cells are connected to short term memory, they will be affected. Also, head injuries, brain infections, and abnormal growths such as tumors can cause changes to how much a person can remember in the short term.  In addition, disease treatments can interfere with short term memory. 

Long term memory

What is long term memory? Is long term memory permanent?

The answer to this question is a little complicated. To help understand it, think of long term memory as a set of little boxes, such as the wall of boxes often seen behind the hotel reception desk in movies. You know the ones—from which the desk clerk takes the room key (and in the old days, any phone messages that the person received while they were out).

When all the keys are successfully in all the boxes, this is like all our memories being successfully coded into our long term memory. So far, so good, right?

All things being regular and usual, the desk clerk can retrieve (get) any key he or she wants at any time and then replace it when it is not needed. Similarly, we can “remember” what we need at any time, although our memories do not move in and out of long term memory (the key analogy can only go so far).

However, many things could prevent hotel clerks from retrieving keys. For example, someone could have sealed some of the boxes, preventing the desk clerks from putting their hands inside. The keys are there, but the desk clerks can’t access them. Or perhaps an evil being has lasered some of the boxes, burning up both the keys and the boxes themselves. Both cases happen in the human brain. Diseases and other brain issues can prevent us from accessing the coded information stored in long term memory. A wide variety of brain damage can destroy long term memory cells and thus, the coded information they contained.

Improve short term memory with spaced repetition

How does long term memory last?

The way to ensure long-lasting long-term memory is through spaced repetition to counteract the effects of Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve. The curve can be avoided if the information is continuously embedded in short-term memory until it becomes imprinted into the long-term.

What are the main characteristics of long term memory?

The main characteristics of long term memory include memories that are usually measured in as short as months and as long as decades. Long term memories, or more distant memories, can include significant milestones from the past such as one’s early birthday or a wedding day, for example.

Here are 3 main characteristics of long term memory:

  1. Conscious memory, which researchers also refer to as explicit or declarative memory. Explicit memory includes information that you have to work to remember like a mathematical formula or certain important dates in history.
  2. Unconscious memory also referred to as implicit or procedural memory. These types of memories include habits, skills, and simple forms of conditioning like knowing how to tie your shoes or remembering the lyrics of a song after the first few notes.
  3. The relationship between both memory systems. According to researchers, the two systems depend on the hippocampus and related areas in the brain, all of which work together to categorize and make sense of conscious memory, unconscious memory, and the relationship between the two.

What are the types of long term memory?

Long-term memory itself can be divided into types.

3 Divisions

Endel Tulving’s 1972 idea was for three types of long-term memory: episodic, procedural, and semantic. Episodic memories are conscious thoughts about what we believe is true. For example, an encoded item that reminds us that we turned off the stove before we left the house. Procedural memories are as their name sounds—encoded information about how to do things such as change a tire or brush our teeth. Lastly, semantic memories are encoded items of factual information, including world knowledge and language.

2 Divisions

Some researchers say that episodic and semantic memory are two types of declarative memories. In other words, what we “know” (or believe) to be true. As a result, they categorize long-term memory into two divisions: declarative and nondeclarative memories.pr

Another way to name these two categories is explicit (declarative) and implicit (nondeclarative) memories.

Short term vs. long term memory

The following table highlights the major physical differences between short-term and long-term memory.

These differences are logically aligned with the purpose of each memory type. 

Short-term memory begins the remembering process. Its function is to interpret the new information. As a result, examples of short term memory is located in brain areas responsible for speech (reading and writing), interpretation of language, and interpretation of sensory signals (sight, hearing, touch, sound). 

Long-term memory is our warehouse of remembering. Its function is to store our past interpretations for retrieval as needed. Thus, it occupies some of the same brain areas as short-term memory (in order to make sense of the language and sensory coding stored) but occupies another important area, too—the medial temporal lobe. Among other things, this brain region is responsible for sequencing and ordering. This makes sense as memory retrieval needs to be orderly, presenting information in the correct arrangement or in the right series.

Weak memory and learning

If you sometimes wonder why you forget things so quickly, you’re not alone. Weak working memory can impact learning. Those with weak working memory will have difficulty organizing and integrating new skills or knowledge. Working memory differs from short-term memory in that s

As a result, they will have difficulty following directions, learning procedures with multiple steps, organizing thoughts, or processing information. Problems in long-term memory can hinder the recall of information. The individual may get confused, disorganized, or disoriented when presented with new learning content.

Memory and synapses

Memory consolidation depends on how synapses work in the brain. Synapses are like the electrical system that conducts current.

Synapses pass signals between neurons using neurotransmitters. When two neurons fire together repeatedly, they become sensitized, making them likely to work in the future. With new experiences, memories, and information, several similar connections are set up in the brain while old ones are weeded out.

Short term to long term memory – Consolidation

Rehearsing and recalling information repeatedly results in the strengthening of the synaptic pathway.

Repeated firing of the same neurons will make them more likely to fire together in the future as well. This will help in remembering and recalling the information with greater accuracy and ease.

Influences on memory consolidation

Memories are often misunderstood as filing cabinets that store information or specific memories in individual files. However, the memories are spread across different parts of the brain.

One of the major theories of sleep has shown that sleep can help in processing and consolidating memories that have been acquired when people have been awake. Lost memories can be reconsolidated after they have been recalled. Recalling and reconsolidating a memory helps in maintaining and strengthening information located in the long-term memory.

How can I improve my short term memory?

The process of memory consolidation or improving short term memory can be speeded up when learning new skills or information. Rehearsing and memorizing using mnemonic techniques can improve the process of recall.

Another method to improve short term memory in the long-term memory is to rehearse the information in spaced intervals (spaced repetition) repeatedly. This technique can be found built right into the microlearning platform: SC Training (formerly EdApp). It ensures better memory retention and should be preferred over the technique of cramming information the night before an examination.

One can adopt memorization strategies by understanding the process of memory consolidation. This will ensure that students can utilize their study time more effectively and efficiently.  

converting short term memory to long term - memory consolidation

If you’re interested in using SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s award-winning platform that includes built-in features to automatically promote long term memory through learning? Click below to start training.


Memory and the Brain



Guest Author Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is a senior technical editor and writer that has worked in the education and technology sectors for two decades. Their background experience includes curriculum development and course book creation.

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