Learning and Memory | University of Portland

Learning and Memory

Learning is putting information into your memory for storage and future retry. Below you will find details about the 3 Stages of Memory Formation and Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning.

3 Stages of Memory Formation

Phase 1 Sensory Intake
At this brief stage, sensory input is received in the various channels: auditory (lectures), visual (reading or demonstration), and kinesthetic (movement, as in pitching or piano practice). We take in sensory input faster if the material is familiar. Most of us have a capacity for only 6 or 7 details at this stage (a telephone number, for example).

Phase 2 Short-term memory
Sensory input is processed in this stage. Material is stored, organized, analyzed, and otherwise “worked over" in preparation for being passed along to the final stage. If information is unimportant it is forgotten; an example is the telephone number looked up and remembered only long enough to dial. Things that we want to learn and store in long term memory must be given some attention; up to 40% of material that is not worked on by active thinking is lost within 24 hours.

Phase 3 Long-term memory
Whereas short-term and working memory has limited capacity, our long-term memory is virtually unlimited. It is also permanent. Knowledge is stored in an organized manner, with links or associated details stored together. Sometimes locating specific information in your memory takes time or needs something to 'jog your memory’ but information once learned is always there.

Bloom's Taxonomy (Levels of Learning)

Benjamin Bloom, an educational researcher at the University of Chicago, led a committee that formulated a taxonomy, or classification, of "educational objectives." The taxonomy is a list of six skill categories or levels; each category of skills is considered to be necessary for success at the next level. When the taxonomy is applied to school work, we can see that much high school and community college work is at the Knowledge, Comprehension, and Application levels. University work tends to emphasize Application, Synthesis, and sometimes Evaluation. University students are often expected to operate at these higher levels, especially on exams, without being explicitly instructed to do so. 

Knowledge is the ability to remember ideas, facts, or concepts and being able to recognize or recall them. It is the foundation for all other activities.


  • Name the capital of France.   
  • List the causes of WWII.
  • State the Pythagorean Theorem.

Comprehension is the ability to understanding a communication, whether it's a lecture, a reading selection, a lab demonstration, or a piece of music. It entails understanding what is being communicated, as well as being able to express the information in your own words, summarize it, or make generalizations or predictions based upon it.


  • Interpret a circle graph.
  • Explain the outcome of a lab experiment.
  • Answer questions on a reading selection.

Application is the ability to (1) take a new problem and use your knowledge and comprehension to decide which rule, principle, or equation applies to a new situation, and (2) then use the rule to solve a problem that you haven't seen before, on your own.


  • Answers to most math and physics problems.
  • Predict the probable effect of a change in temperature on a chemical. 

Analysis is the breaking down of material into its parts and seeing how the parts are organized or related.  It could be distinguishing fact from opinion, identifying a conclusion and the statements that support it, or finding main themes in music or poetry.


  • Identifying symbols used by a poet in a particular poem.
  • Compare and contrast essay questions. 

Synthesis is the ability to drawing together what you know from many sources and putting it together to make something new. Work within some rules or methodology but also exercise some creativity.


  • Write a research paper.
  • Formulate a hypothesis
  • Draw up a marketing plan.

Evaluation is the ability to make judgments about the value of ideas, solutions, methods, etc. These judgments are based on knowledge and definite criteria; they are not simply opinions.  


  • Point out fallacies in an argument or debate.
  • Judge the merit of a research project.

Sources: Benjamin S. Bloom et al. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook l, Cognitive Domain. Allan C. Ornstein. Strategies for Effective Teaching. 1995.