The concept of verbal learning is credited to Herman Ebbibghaus (1885) and his scientific research on memory. Verbal learning may simply be stated as the memorization or learning of a list of words (Terry, 2009). Early research in verbal learning studied factors such as the number of repetitions the spacing of repetitions, or the transfer of learning from one list to another (Terry, 2009). Verbal learning however actually involves more than just the memorization of words. In actuality, many times we study learning of non-word items such as pictures, faces, or places (Terry, 2009). Furthermore, the study of verbal learning goes beyond that of passive memorization. Learners play a very active role in manipulating experimental stimuli. Serial Learning
Serial learning is defined as a list of items learned and reproduced in the sequence of occurrence within the list (Terry, 2009). Serial learning is identified frequently in everyday life. Examples of serial learning are children learning the alphabet or trying to memorize a poem, and numerical codes or passwords for computers (Terry, 2009). In study trials of serial learning, Terry (2009) explains, a list is presented and then alternated with test trials in which a participant tries to recall the items from the list. Learning is quantified by counting the number of correctly recalled items at each serial position or the number of errors (Terry, 2009).
Research shows that when participants are presented with a list of words they tend to remember the beginning and the end of the list and seem to more easily forget the middle of the list (McLeod, 2008). This is known as the serial position effect. There are several theories that have been proposed as to the reason for position effects. The first suggests that the end items in a list serve as an anchor that the rest of the list is attached (Terry, 2009). This theory suggests that the middle items in the list most likely become associated to one another rather than the list as a whole. Terry (2009) gives the example of students who normally recall school memories from the beginning and end of the school year with fewer memories of those events that happened in the middle of the year. The next theory suggests that rehearsal patterns are different across serial positions. In reviewing a list, the first items do not compete with other items for rehearsal and the items at the end of the list have some increased rehearsal and the middle items share in divided rehearsal (Terry, 2009). The final theory of position effect argues that learning some list items may interfere with learning others (Terry, 2009). There are two types of interference, proactive and retroactive. Proactive interference is when early learning upsets later learning. Retroactive interference is the opposite, later learning upsets early learning. The middle items according to this theory, experience maximum interference from the proactive learning the beginning list items and the retroactive learning the end list items (Terry, 2009). Paired Associate Learning
Paired associate learning in research is the presentation of a stimulus and a response item. To test the memory of the paired items, only the stimulus is presented and the subject attempts to recall the response (Terry, 2009). Examples of paired...