Improving learning in memoryimpaired people

One of the greatest handicaps for memory-impaired people is their inability to learn new information. In recent years a number of studies have been carried out to investigate errorless learning in memory rehabilitation. Errorless learning is a teaching strategy whereby people are prevented, as far as possible, from making mistakes while they are learning a new skill or acquiring new information. Instead of teaching by demonstration, which may involve the learner in trial and error, the experimenter or teacher presents the correct information or procedure in ways that minimize the possibility of erroneous responses.

There are two theoretical backgrounds influencing errorless learning work with cognitively impaired people. The first is errorless discrimination learning from behavioural psychology, first developed by Terrace (!.Z> in his work with pigeons, and later used with mentally retarded (learning disabled) people. (!8) The second influence is from studies of implicit learning in amnesic subjects, (19 showing that people with amnesia can learn some information normally although they may have no conscious recollection (explicit recall) that they have previously engaged in the task.

Building on these two strands of research we posed the question, 'Do amnesic subjects learn better when prevented from making errors during the learning process?' In one group study and several single-case studies (29 it was demonstrated that people with severe memory disorders learn more successfully with an errorless learning strategy. Others have adapted this strategy with non-progressive amnesic patients, (2! and recently we have used errorless learning procedures with patients who have Alzheimer' disease/22' All patients benefited to a greater or lesser degree and were able to learn some useful everyday information.

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