Writing and digital storage have largely replaced organic memory for retrieval of information in the modern era, with a corresponding decrease in emphasis on memorization in Western education. However, in health professional training memorization is the most efficient means of retaining information. The carefully staged progression in early- to late- years’ medical training from broad concepts to in-depth, specialised disciplinary knowledge has clear parallels to the training and knowledge that Australian Aboriginal youths undergo through life.
As part of the Rural Health curriculum and the undergraduate Nutrition and Dietetics program in the Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Sciences, the researchers tested Aboriginal memorization techniques of novel word lists by first-year medical students. The researchers also examined undergraduate student evaluations of the use of the Aboriginal memory technique for classroom study of foundational biomedical knowledge using qualitative and quantitative methods.
Both types of memory training improved the number of correctly recalled items and reduced the frequency of specific error types relative to untrained performance. This Aboriginal memorization method resulted in approximately a 3-fold greater probability of improvement to accurate recall of the entire word list among students who did not correctly recall all list items at baseline. Student responses to learning this Aboriginal memory technique in the context of biomedical science education were overwhelmingly favourable, and students found both the training and the technique enjoyable, interesting, and more useful than rote memorization. The data indicate that this method has genuine utility and efficacy for study of biomedical sciences and in the foundation years of medical training.
It is clear from these studies that students in the medical and allied health professions expect that memorization will play a substantial role in their training, and they are receptive to learning techniques that can improve memory tasks. The students sampled in this work viewed training on this Aboriginal memorization method, in particular, as meaningful, interesting and fun. The attractiveness of this approach, combined with the clear quantitative improvement in recall after a single, short training session, suggests that memory techniques based on Indigenous knowledge can be beneficially incorporated into health professions education.