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How we encode information in our mind is important. There are many ways information can be encoded but these methods generally rely on either visualizations — remembering information as images, or verbalization — remembering information as words.

Being aware of how we encode information allows us to take advantage of different memory techniques depending on the kind of information we are trying to learn. It also allows us to refine our techniques for encoding information and creating systems that allow us to remember much more information than we otherwise could.

Visualization — using images

Research has shown that we remember visual images much easier and better than words. Using imagery can make learning more fun and interesting. Especially when compared to repetitive learning by rote.

We can take advantage of the brains inherent preference of remembering visual imagery by visualizing information we want to remember. The better you are able to visualize something the better you will remember it at a future time. You can learn more about how to make visual imagery more effective for learning by reading about Visual Mnemonics.

Not everything can be visualized — abstract concepts and ideas don’t always lend themselves to visualization. Concrete images are the easiest to visualize and remember. There are ways to convert abstract ideas into images, generally by associating a visual symbol that has a similar meaning or that can cue the idea we are trying to remember.

Imagery techniques often involve encoding information as images, then decoding the images when you want to recall the information. This can require extra time and effort but it is often more effective than not using any technique.

In general, we can remember visual imagery more effectively than words; however, some information lends itself better to being remembered as words.

Verbalization — using words

Not all information is best remembered using imagery techniques. Sometimes it is faster, easier, or more effective to use a verbalization technique. Verbal techniques often don’t require the encoding of information so can be faster as little or no decoding is needed.

Consider this example. We can all picture a rainbow in our head but we can’t necessarily remember the exact order of colors. Remembering the name Roy-g-biv is a verbal technique (specifically an acronym) that allows us to remember the order of the colors much easier: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

You can learn more techniques for remembering information as words by reading about Verbal Mnemonics.

To learn more about ways of encoding information, or studying in general, please take a look at my review of The Study Method

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Pictures vs. Words