An interesting post in Zen Habits on how to ace exams without studying explains and illustrates the difference between learning by rote and learning by "making connections".
While Scott Young includes "storytelling to remember facts and numbers" as one of five connection-making techniques for non-rote learning, I'm interested in a deeper connection, partly in the hope of understanding my own strengths and weaknesses in this area. Metaphor (his first technique) has, after all, some kind of implicit narrative. There has to be some kind of context in which the "stage" and its "players" and their "entrances" and "exits" mean something, before I can add that meaning to my understanding of "men" and "women". The same is more or less obviously true of his other techniques, like "Explain it to a five year old" (how would you do that without telling stories?) - read it, you'll see.
So the way to learn something is to make sense of it, to connect it to the things in our life which already have meaning for us. That's what stories and metaphors do.
This raises an interesting question - can I do this for my life as a whole? Is there some connection between, say, my interest in Metaphors We Live By, and my activities in Impro, does it all fit together?
I don't know yet, but I'll keep wondering.