Formal Mnemonic Systems
Formal mnemonics are those that involve highly prescribed instructions for use. Whereas a simple mnemonic procedure such as semantic elaboration puts very few constraints on the learner, formal mnemonics provide a more precise specification of how information should be encoded and retrieved. In most cases, a learner using a formal mnemonic is applying a technique that has been developed by someone else. As discussed in Chapter 2, this type of learning situation has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage of using a preexisting formal technique is that there is usually some evidence-even if anecdotal-that attests to its effectiveness. Second, other-generated techniques relieve one of the burden of creating a mnemonic from scratch. However, these advantages are sometimes offset by a lack of knowledge of the applications for which the mnemonic was designed and the time required to learn the technique. Regardless, the present discussion is offered not to promote the use of formal mnemonic systems but to provide insight into the mechanics of such techniques. By examining the procedures involved in each system in light of basic cognitive processes, we can identify the functional components that underlie each system. Thus, the present chapter will be beneficial both to those who wish to learn and use formal mnemonic systems and to those who wish to devise their own mnemonic techniques. Below, we discuss some of the most widely used and well-researched formal techniques.