Nobody remembers names

Almost everyone I meet tells me when I first introduce myself that they are horrible at remembering names. I am patient with them and am happy to repeat my name for this person several times.

Why should we expect someone to remember our name the first time? It’s essentially a random piece of information which has no relationship to who we are as people. We learn names by immersion (other people around use the name), by repetition, in context, and by using the name ourselves.

So why would we expect our students to remember disconnected facts without immersion, repetition, context, or use?


One Comment

  • Hi David,

    I completely agree with you. I used to be great with names. I still am when I meet people one at a time or associate with them over a continuous period. But I have difficulty recalling names when I meet many people en mass or in quick succession, or when I haven’t seen a person even for a short while. Out of sight, out of mind definitely sums up my recall.

    This is surely also true for students and arbitrary information we feed them. Worse yet is when we feed students arbitrary information out of context. They are left with information that hangs, information they learn will have meaning “later” or whose purpose they never realize.

    Arbitrary information should be learned in context when the *urge* to “name or explain that thing” *compels* us to learn it. This information exists for communication. Learning the information without context gives it no meaning, even after the context is revealed. This sets up a diad, perhaps even triad, of confusion and misconception. One has to cope with the out-of-context arbitrary information, the mismatch of the forced-onto-context arbitrary information and that context (sort of a residual memory that does not fit the jigsaw), and finally the equally hanging context with no supportive arbitrary information.

    I like your analogy of recalling names to illustrate your argument about learning arbitrary information. The point is so clear when presented this way.


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