Concept-building versus memorization in classroom didactic

Concept-building versus memorization in classroom didactic
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In the educational domain, the approaches to learning and teaching have witnessed an ongoing debate between concept-building and memorization in relation to teaching and learning strategies. This article explores the concepts of concept-building and memorization in classroom didactic practices, delving into what they entail and their effects on student learning.

šŸ’” Lessons learnt: The why gives meaning to the what.

What is Memorization?

Memorization emphasizes the rote learning and repetition of information without necessarily focusing on understanding the underlying concepts. It involves committing facts, formulas, or procedures to memory through strategies like drills, flashcards, and repetition exercises. For instance, in language learning, memorization of vocabulary, grammar rules, and conjugation forms provides students with the necessary building blocks for effective communication. In subjects like history, geography, and art, memorizing key dates, names, locations, and artistic styles helps students establish a basic knowledge framework to comprehend more complex concepts later on. While memorization alone may not lead to deep understanding, it serves as a valuable starting point for students to engage with more nuanced ideas and concepts within these subject areas. Research by Roediger and Karpicke (2006) highlights the limitations of pure memorization approaches and suggests that it is less effective for long-term knowledge retention and application.

What is Concept-building?

Concept-building, on the other hand, entails a student-centred approach to learning that focuses on understanding a subject's fundamental principles, connections, and underlying concepts. It involves actively engaging students in constructing knowledge, developing critical thinking skills, and applying concepts to real-world scenarios. Concept-building techniques include problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and collaborative group activities.

For example in the subject area of science and mathematics, concept building plays a key role to help students to understand fundamental principles, theories, and scientific processes. Through hands-on experiments, inquiry-based activities, and analyzing real-world scenarios, students develop a deep understanding of scientific concepts and the ability to apply them to new situations. In humanities and social sciences, concept building involves analyzing and interpreting historical events, literary works, and social phenomena, enabling students to construct informed arguments based on their understanding of perceived underlying ideas. Research by Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, and Chinn (2007) emphasizes the effectiveness of concept-building approaches in promoting higher-order thinking, problem-solving abilities, and long-term retention of knowledge.

Compare and Contrast Concept-building and Memorization

Concept-building encourages active engagement, critical thinking, and the application of knowledge to real-world contexts. It promotes deeper understanding, encourages problem-solving skills, and cultivates creativity. Memorization, on the other hand, relies on repetition and recall, emphasizing the ability to reproduce information without necessarily grasping its significance or relevance. While memorization may be efficient for short-term learning or specific tasks, it often lacks transferability and inhibits higher-order thinking skills.

Studies, including that of Mayer (2004) and Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000), emphasize the significance of meaningful learning experiences that involve concept-building. These approaches enhance student comprehension, foster connections between new and existing knowledge, and promote critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Memorization, on the other hand, may have its place in certain contexts, such as learning basic facts, building foundational knowledge and learning new languages. To help students develop higher-order thinking skills in a given area of expertise, conceptual understanding and concept-building strategies prove to be more effective.

While both methods have their merits, research suggests that concept-building approaches foster more profound understanding, critical thinking, and long-term knowledge retention. Educators should strive to strike a balance between these two approaches, leveraging the strengths of each while prioritizing the development of conceptual understanding.


Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17(3), 249ā€“255

Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99ā€“107.

Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning? American Psychologist, 59(1), 14-19.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school.


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