The brain records conjunctions of details and events in what are sometimes termed convergence/divergence zones. Disparate elements of an event, or of a conversation, or of a passage from something you are reading are mixed in with sounds, and diverse visual and sensory data, much of which you may be unaware of at the time.

Each little detail, whether you are consciously aware of that detail or not, is also reinforced by repetition. The actual mechanisms of memory, however, are not smart and do not discriminate between – what we might consider – unessential details, and essential details.

When it comes to the memory aspect of learning, therefore, we’re almost always doing it wrong. That’s why it seems so hard much of the time.

The most widely held view of study is that study should take place in a familiar and routine place, and that the lack of anything novel, new or different in the study environment eliminates distraction from the material being studied, and thus improves retention.

Well, it seems that we could not have been more wrong about that.

The trivial little details of the work-space get endlessly reinforced in the brain, while the actual focus of the study is trivialised in the memory in comparison to those details.

If you spent much of your school life studying in a very specific, and largely unchanged space, you can probably – even now – keenly recall the space in which you studied, but probably very little of what you actually studied there.

Bucking the tradition, and varying your location or environment apparently vastly increase the accessibility and retention of information, making study, understanding and recall significantly less effortful. Portable study gadgets, from books to e-readers, can present a real boon if only you can unchain the students from a single space.

Scholastic studies aren’t the only things that benefit. You probably remember meeting rooms and board rooms far better than any individual meeting you may have ever had in them, unless there was something particularly different in your sensorium or emotional state that made information or events stand out.

How many times have you, or a co-worker forgotten key information from meetings – even on the same day – and had to scrabble through notes or ask others (who only seem to have hazy and conflicting recollections of the meeting)?

Yet, a business meeting held outdoors in a park, or in a trafficked cafe, or on one of those management retreats seems to stand out more clearly than anything that was done or said in the boardroom back at the corporate headquarters. Moments of wonder – if and when they occur – are always long-remembered, along with almost everything that was going on at that time.

And here’s a key use of virtual environments for meetings, discussions or study. The less ordinary, dull and invariant the space is, the more likely the participants are to recall specifics and important details of the meeting. It shouldn’t be full of distracting sounds or sudden movements, definitely, because the primal parts of the brain do the wrong things with those, now that it’s the 21st century.

Nevertheless, the vast wonders and the mutability of the environment can provide additional hooks to help focus the attention and memory of your co-workers, team or students. If you’ve got your own land, set aside a little time for team-building exercises, letting individuals or small groups vary the meeting/teaching environment.

If you’re a virtual environment user yourself, you can probably easily recall ‘that discussion among the tall blue mushrooms’ or ‘the class with the burning phoenix’ and what was said and discussed in an environment you visited once, rather than one you met or studied in over and over.

There are huge advantages and opportunities in endless variation, if only we choose to make use of them.

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