Elaborative encoding

“Elaborative encoding” describes what we do when we relate knowledge to existing memories or experiences. Making these connections is thought to improve recall, particularly when connections are made to especially distinctive and emotionally-connected targets.

It’s most often used in mnemonic methods, where people might remember numbers by relating them to celebrities, places, smells, etc.

Some Spaced repetition memory system users explicitly write prompts to promote elaborative encoding. Experiments by Karpicke and Smith (2012) suggest this may not be adding much, vs. retrieval practice alone. Related: Retrieval practice appears to be a more effective learning activity than elaborative encoding.





* Experiment comparing concept mapping (invoking Elaborative encoding) vs. retrieval practice (invoking Testing effect) on memory. Like Karpicke and Smith (2012), this paper is also interested in whether the effects of retrieval practice seem to be due to elaborative encoding, or whether there’s some other process going on.

  • [[Karpicke, J. D., & Smith, M. A. (2012). Separate mnemonic effects of retrieval practice and elaborative encoding. Journal of Memory and Language, 67(1), 17–29.

* Is the Testing effect produced by Elaborative encoding? When you review prompts in a Spaced repetition memory system, you give yourself an opportunity to form new connections based on your current context and the different thoughts you have during the review session.