Learning, Memory and Training

The science of learning and memory is one of the most basic aspects of human factors. Learning and memory are involved in all human activities, from the earliest developmental aspects of learning to walk and talk, to highly complex skills such as NDE.  Researchers have studied learning and memory in a variety of ways, including in cellular organisms, animals and humans.  These studies have identified a number of important principles of how learning and memory operate, which can be put to work in almost any setting – from learning and remembering names of classmates, to educational material and skills that are used in NDE.  This section describes three of the most important principles and provides some general guidance on how to apply them.

The most important aspect of learning is to ensure that you provide sufficient time to master the material you are studying.  It is all too common to leave studying to the last minute – cramming – which is not very effective.  More time spent studying leads to better ability to remember (and perform on tests!), and also allows a greater amount of material to be studied.  This is known as the total time principle.

A related principle of learning concerns the importance of how you use the time studying.  Spending one large block of time on a body of material is much less effective than if you space out the studying over intervals.  For example, it is better to spend 2 hours studying on 2 separate days, than 4 hours in a block on the same day.  This is known as the distributed practice principle.

The knowledge testing principle involves assessing what you have learned as you progress in studying, and is a very effective way to enhance your long term ability to remember.  Research has shown that knowledge testing can even be more effective than simply re-studying the same material.  In educational settings this can be built-in by employing quizzes or classroom response systems; on your own it can be done by self-testing, such as ensuring that you remember key terms, definitions, concepts, etc.  Knowledge testing leads to better memory if it is done some time after you have studied the material initially, rather than immediately – this is related to distributed practice described above.

The learning and memory principles described in this section are applicable to anything you are trying to learn and retain for a long period of time.  This includes what you might encounter in training to be an NDE examiner, such as physics course material, equipment calibration procedures, and specific examples of what material flaws look like when examined.  The application of the principles of learning to educational material is sometimes not as effective as it could be, because of limitations of time or lack of familiarity on the part of the instructor.  But as a student, knowledge of these learning principles can allow you to tailor your own studying in such a way as to improve your overall level of learning.

For Further Information

  • TF Sanquist. (2020). Nondestructive Examination (NDE) Training and Qualifications: Implications of Research on Human Learning and Memory, Instruction and Expertise.  PNNL-29761. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC.  Accession Number ML20079E343.
  • Brown, PC, Roediger, HL, and McDaniel, MA.  (2014).  Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.