The shield of cognitive sensory memory in adult learning   Leave a comment


            In order to learn, a learner must retain certain information to build upon for future use to make decisions. How does an adult learner encode, process and store information? Research had proven that cognitive sensory memory, the first level of memory can increase an adult learner’s decision accuracy. It is the short term memory associated with our sense of hearing, touching (haptic), seeing, smelling, and tasting which helps in creating sensory input patterns. As Vlassova & Pearson (2013) noted, “…the short-term advantage of iconic-sensory memory [visual, audio, and touch] is not only limited to item recollection but also can be used to improve decision accuracy” (p. 1641). What occurs when a student is having difficulty in learning through cognitive sensory memory? It became the responsibility of the educator to understand the needs of the learner and explore why certain patterns have failed. One cannot learn without taking in and storing information through sensory input patterns which leads to short term or long term memory.

This research overview considers key questions:

            1. Does cognitive sensory memory produce patterns of behavioral changes for lifelong  learning?

            2. Is there a connection between andragogy and cognitive sensory memory?

            3. How does an adult learner’s learning style affect their cognitive sensory memory?

            To understand the complexity of an adult learner and how they learn means exploring their learning styles as Dunn and Dunn (1992; 1993; 1999) mentioned, “Learning style is the way in which each learner begins to concentrate on, process, absorb, and retain new and difficult information (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009, p. 107). It is their sensory input patterns relating to their memory that results in change as Shuell (1986) commented “…there is a change in a person’s behavior or ability, the change is the result of experience or practice, and the change is persistent (Bowman, Frame, & Kennette, 2013).


            In this present study, the focus lied on cognitive sensory memory and andragogy. Two participants, both were aware of the study; one resides in Florida, the second, in Texas. Both subjects are working class, have their associate’s degree, one had no interest to continue in formal education while the other will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree next fall. One is heterosexual while the other is transgender, both male. Their educational backgrounds differ in that participant one finished high school and had an associate degree and is not continuing with formal education while participant two holds an associate degree and has two classes to complete before receiving a bachelor’s degree. A questionnaire of 18 questions had been posed to the partakers.

Does cognitive sensory memory produce patterns of behavioral changes for lifelong learning?

            According to Lamb (2011), “Lifelong learning is not determined by where you learn, but how. It can be best defined as “a cognitive process by which [adults] continue to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes over their behaviors and environmental contexts can enhance their cognitive functioning and development in adulthood and old age” (Lamb, 2011, p. 1 as cited in Wolfe, 2013, Discussion). Cognitive skills are based on the ability to store and recall information. Cognitive sensory memory features sensory input patterns which could be auditory, visual, touch, etc. (Wolfe, 2013, Discussion).

            It is through our sensory memory that patterns flow into our short term memory for a few milliseconds, into our conscious memory and then a decision of whether to transfer the new information long term memory or discard is made. If an adult learner is familiar with the configurations, the new patterns become interesting and stored away for future use changing the reflection on the pattern for example, problem solutions are can be stored a lifetime as patterns in memory while changing the learner (Wolfe, Discussion, Nov 24). Currently researchers are combining short term and long term memory together and calling it, a working memory as Baddeley (2003) commented, “More recent memory models incorporate the short-term and long-term components into one memory system that accounts for working memory (temporary storage and processing and long-term memory) (Bowman, Frame & Kennette, 2013, p. 9).

Is there a relationship between andragogy and cognitive sensory memory?

            Malcolm Knowles, a theorist in adult education wrote about and reported on andragogy which was based on the adult learner who was self-directed and takes responsibility for their decisions. Andragogy draws on humanism and humans rely on sensory patterns associated with the five senses in order to learn and grow. In order for an adult learner to be self-directed they must have life experiences in order to build upon, without cognitive sensory memory there can be no connections in order to reach a higher level of autonomy. How can an adult learner self-identify without the knowledge of experiences? It appears impossible since self-identity is about knowledge and acquiring skills/abilities, personal characteristics, career, and personal interests all intertwined with working memory which began with the cognitive sensory input. According to  Riding et al. (2003), “There is evidence that effective WMC [working memory capacity] differs among individuals and this difference affects a wide range of cognitive tasks such as reasoning, acquiring new vocabulary words, reading comprehension and problem solving” (Kyndt, Cascallar, & Dochy, 2012, p. 287).

 How does an adult learner’s cognitive sensory memory affect their learning style?

            Adult learners are individual in their learning styles and utilize a combination of them yet there was always one or two which were dominant in the learning process. Once a preference was detected then a connection between learning and sensory memory could be made. For instance, both participants were kinesthetic learners (learn by using body, hands, and sense of touch) and visual learners (learn through pictures, images, and spatial understanding), only one was a verbal learner (learn by using words in speech and writing) and neither were auditory learners (learn through listening). Hence, learning styles of adult learners were affected by sensory input whether it be by hands on as one participant was a home contractor and used cognitive sensory memory to retain and understand the technical aspects of his trade as he could see and connect it to real world situations. The other was a pastor at a Methodist Church who was responsible for wearing many hats for instance, tending to vegetation field with children and utilizes kinesthetic learning of how to grow food properly.

            Learning was also seen through imagery and visuals (iconic) as a contractor needed to see a problem, reflect and problem solve or for the pastor who learned by watching others to recognize their hardships. It became apparent that both would do poorly by trying to learn for example, in a verbal lecture hall since both have claimed they are not auditory learners. Information processing was different for each adult learner and when a learner knew their styles, the learning process began with sensory input making it easier to understand in turn, reflect and grow.

 Analysis – Learning is Memory

            Multiple Intelligence could be seen as these learners were classified by depicting certain characteristics. Contributor one is number smart, self-smart, and nature smart and contributor two is word smart, number smart, people smart, self-smart, picture smart, music smart, body smart and nature smart (para. Rüstü & Özgen, 2010, 11-13). All of these intelligences began with their cognitive sensory memory input.

            Each has strengths in learning such as subject one feels he picked things up quickly and was fast at retaining information while his weaknesses were in taking notes and dealing with paperwork. Subject two has endurance and the “don’t give up attitude” while being a problem solver and his weakness in learning was being a slow reader.

            Subject one is a building contractor for residences and businesses. In any given project he must assess a situation visually, plan on paper the process needed to complete the job successfully, and obtain the proper materials. His work was based on hands on learning and techniques. He had learned through using cognitive sensory memory, experiential experiences, problem solving, and trial and error in his working world.

            As the stimuli patterns were received in through sight and by listening he concentrated on the new information to understand it in order to transfer it from cognitive sensory memory to short term which began the process of learning. He used selective processing by focusing on specific sensory stimuli important to complete a task. It was this significant information used in completing of a task since it was processed from cognitive sensory memory to the working memory. Here, sensory memory included remembering visual stimulus his eyes had already viewed like broken tiles, verbal’s, and spacial that helped him to create an order of importance of the task at hand. He had to learn how to use a Bosch four Piece Glass and Tile Drill Bit Set for a tile job. It had many uses, fits well the hand, was steady, and gave smooth results. When the second tile job was requested he built into his cognitive sensory memory the vibrations the drill made while using it, what the drill and bits look like resulting in quickly retrieving this information for the new task.

            Motivation, familiarity, and interest helped learning as input was taken in willingly leading to self-directed learning and self-identity. This combination created the connection between new sensory memory input and past learning experiences in which to build. The relationship was based upon the easy access retrieval of the sensory memory. This in turn, gave him appropriate knowledge to automate skills and problem solve in the future.

            Participant two is a pastor and works with the community from the very old to the very young on a daily basis. How does a man of god learn by using cognitive sensory memory? He saw the world with love for instance, after looking into the eyes of someone hurting he would take in that visual stimuli and retain that information and access the meaning quickly and easily the next time someone was in pain. He had experiences of walking into the homes of the elderly and could smell that it needed to be cleaned, which he did from washing the floors to making their bed. He gained knowledge by listening to others, viewing them in different learning environments and was able to learn what their needs were based on his observations.

            He was a non-traditional adult learner who worked towards being self-directed as he continued in formal education leading to a bachelor’s degree in Ministry. It was in the classroom setting that he utilized cognitive sensory memory by writing papers, viewing presentations, and began to retrain his audio skills when listening to lectures. His sense of smell was a connection to sensory learning as incense was burned to purify during different rituals.  The lighting of candles was used for visual effects and symbolism based on past learning experiences. As he recited passages from the bible he was teaching the congregation as well as learning for himself the true meanings of the scriptures. During his Sunday school classes he learned from listening and participating in discourse with his students about their views and perspectives on religion. Through music and song he learned about his passion and his calling.

            Furthermore, he drove a small bus to take people to doctor’s appointments, school, job interviews, etc. It is his cognitive sensory memory that blocks out certain stimuli. For instance, visual and audio (echoic) information could be overwhelming in certain environments such as, conversations going on behind him of three older women, or the radio playing a song or decorations on buildings he passed for the up and coming holiday. This input does not pertain to the task of driving therefore shielding from him from inundated stimuli.   

            He must learn that his congregation is made up of individuals and each person has their own leaning style. As he prepared for his sermon the concept of multi-sensory memory and how the people will remember his words came to mind. He spoke of the kindness in God, walked away from the pulpit to get closer to the people to look them in the eyes; he led the choir in hymns since repetition reinforced the sensory memory, and used arm and hand gestures to reinforce his message. His message was seen in more than one way or perspective. Through his own sensory memory he held the knowledge to connect and educate adult learners.

Discussion of Observations

            The results prove d that in order to learn there needs to be proper sensory input patterns which flow into a short term or long term memory path that leads to learning and changes within an adult learner, to be self-directed.

            Cognitive sensory memory is like a shield against an overload of sensory occurrences and stimuli. Adult learners retain in memory what they choose to remember and what is of interest or necessity. According to Hecht & Reiner (2009) stated, “The way we perceive multi-sensory events reveals that our brain may not give equal weight to the information coming from the different sensory modalities” (p. 307). It is similar to cooking pasta. The cliché is seen here, if your throw a cooked noodle on a wall and it sticks, it’s done. This is similar to the learning of both participants who shared characteristics such as being number smart, self-smart, and nature smart which is based on their sensory input patterns of preferences and interests.        

            Learning styles were discussed as to matching the right cognitive sensory memory input to a style to increase learning and yet other authors such as Massa & Mayer (2006) concluded that their results provided no support for, ‘‘…the idea that different instructional methods should be used for visualizers and verbalizers” (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer & Bjork, 2008, p. 112).


            I have learned from this study that there can be no learning without cognitive sensory memory input of touching, seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling. My research changed how I think about adult learning by beginning to understand the process of what it takes to learn. It is the stimuli input of information that is taken in sometimes to retain while other times to disregard. But how is it initially entered? It is through an adult learner’s cognitive sensory memory resulting in learning. I have changed how I think about adult development in noting that there is a connection between sensory memory, problem solving and being able to utilize critical analysis. Sensory memory leads to self-direction, development through the interaction within their environment, and lifelong learning.

            One question to think about: What if courses were designed and based on specific adult learner’s cognitive sensory memory and learning styles. A class based solely on visuals or audios, or the use of their hands, their sense of smell or taste. Would it benefit the learner?

            Another question: Knowing how cognitive sensory memory begins, if an adult learner is blind or deaf does it mean that by using audio or visuals as a teaching method it would enhance their sensory memory to perform tasks and problem solve?

            A third question: As adult learners we age. Do we lose the full potential of our cognitive sensory memory as time goes on?

            And Fourth: Is it possible to retrain cognitive sensory memory?

            Further research into in the theory of cognitive sensory memory is needed to learn the affects it has on learning styles and the connection it has to an adult learner in being self-directed/autonomous. Exploring this theory means a better understanding of the learning process of an adult learner.  

            There are children playing in the streets who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago ~ J. Robert Oppenheimer


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Kyndt, E., Cascallar, E., & Dochy, F. (2012). Individual differences in working memory capacity and attention, and their relationship with students’ approaches to learning. Higher Education, 64(3), 285-297. Retrieved from,   64-a0f4-487d-a3cb-0333bb1e908e%40sessionmgr4003&hid=4205

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Rüstü, Y. & Özgen, K. (2010, Fall). Reliability And Validity Analysis Of The Multiple Intelligence Perception Scale. Education, 131, 1, 8-31. Retrieved from,ProQues 

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Wolfe, T. D. (2013, November). Learning and development in contemporary adulthood.   Discussion.


J. Robert Oppenheimer Quote:


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