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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Definition: Mnemonic

Mnemonics are word tricks to help enrich and encode information to be memorized and then help to maximize recall. A mnemonic is when a meaningful word is created from the first letter of each word that is to be memorized or learned.

Mnemonics work because learning research indicates that the more richly we encode information, the more easily we can retrieve that information when needed. They also involve chunking and organizing of content (also effective techniques.)

An example would be ROY G. BIV as a term for remembering the order of the colors in a rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet)* Or the word HOMES to represent the names of the great lakes in the United States—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

An example from industry is the word “whip” which is “W-I-P” formed from the first three letters of the words Work-In-Process. Another example is the word PERT which is the first letter from each of the words Program Evaluation Review Technique. PERT is a method of project management using a project network diagram. In instructional design we talk about the ADDIE model of instructional design—Analysis, Design, Development Implementation and Evaluation, sometimes we call it the MADDIE model by adding Management to the beginning of the acronym.

Using mnemonics is a simple technique and backed by research. They are effective. You probably still remember mnemonics from grade school. Unfortunately, the technique is severely underutilized. In a study of 14 different pharmaceutical training programs created by six different vendors, no mnemonics where found in any of the courses. A link to the whitepaper is contained on AXIOM's Evidence-Based Training page. Why aren't they used? Are they seen as too childish or too difficult to create?

I am not sure why they aren't used but I do know from research and anecdotal evidence that they are effective. Try creating and adding a mnemonic to your instruction today. You will aid your learners in recalling key information using a simple, low cost technique that is shown to be effective for recall.

If you have time, leave a mnemonic in the comments, let's see how many we can gather.

*You can see awesome images of rainbows here.

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