Information Processing Theory

According to Snowman & Mc Cown (2013), the Information Processing Theory “seeks to understand how people acquire new information, how they create and store mental representations of information, how they recall it from memory, and how what they already know, guides and determines what and how they will learn”(p167). In essence this theoretical framework is based on how persons think, reason and learn. This paper will explain the theoretical underpinnings of the Information Processing Theory as well as discuss how this theory can be applied to teaching-learning experiences within the classroom.

Jean Piaget’ s constructivist theory can be directly linked to the Information Processing Theory. Piaget’s theory is learner- centered and states that teaching content must be developmentally appropriate. Piaget also suggests that the teacher provide a classroom environment where students are given the opportunity to interact with the content. Students must also be asked probing questions which would allow them to process the information, therefore enabling them to better understand and transfer the information to their long-term memory.

Theorist, Lev Vygotsky enforces the importance of social interaction, scaffolding and internalization. Vygotsky suggests that students be given the opportunity to interact with their instructor s and their peers during teaching-learning activities. Students must also be given support and assistance, or taught skills that will help them understand content easily; Vygotsky refers to this as Scaffolding. Good classroom interaction and proper support from teachers during instruction, allow students to internalize and learn new or more difficult concepts easier.

This model for human thinking and learning is based on the cognitive perspectives of learning and links these processes to those of a computer. Upon further discussion of the classroom applications of this theory, the links to the mentioned theorist will become evident. McLeod (2008) states “Cognitive psychology sees the individual as a processor of information, in much the same way that a computer takes in information and follows a program to produce an output”. The human mind is compared to a computer, suggesting that we too are information processors and the knowledge we are exposed to is referred to as “schema”.

Therefore, “The idea of information processing was adopted by cognitive psychologists as a model of how human thought works” (McLeod, 2008). . The general model of the Information Processing Theory is comprised of three main components, Sensory memory, Working (short-term) memory and Long-term memory (Mc Crudden & Schraw, 2013). The Sensory memory gathers information via the senses. Researchers have found that sensory processing happens so quickly, that persons cannot control what they attend to. It is “fast and unconscious” (Mc Crudden & Schraw, 2013).

Incoming information is filtered and only remembers what is important, which is then processed to the Working memory. The Baddeley (2001) model explains that within the Working (short-term) memory , meaning is applied to the stimuli passed on from the Sensory memory. The individual is then able to link these stimuli to larger units and then construct lea r ning so that it can be applied to other mental operations. For example, an individual is told bits of infor mation about a pizza.

They are told that it is usually round, it has cheese, tomato sauce, onions, and other things on top, and it is baked until the dough and other ingredients are cooked. They are given this information without ever seeing or eating one but he/she may be able to use these bits of in formation to identify a pizza if they hap pen to come into contact with one . Our Long-term memory as opposed to Sensory and Working memory is said to have limitless amount of space. Within the Long-term memory, information must be properly organized.

It is then encoded and stored and can be retrieved by the learner at any time. For example, an individual sees a billboard (visual informat ion) about the opening of a new restaurant, this information is then “stored” and “coded” in the brain. The informatio n can then be retrieved when the individual is probably looking for a place to out to dinner; he/she may remember seeing the billboard and decide to try the new restaurant based on the information previously seen on the billboard.

This can be linked to Piaget’s theory about schema. Piaget called the schema “the basic building block of intelligent behaviour – a way of organizing knowledge or as “units” of knowledge, each relating to one aspect of the world, including objects, actions and abstract (i. e. theoretical) concepts” (McLeod, 2009). Therefore, a s information is properly organized and stored in the brain, it allows the individual to react to new stimuli or information.

When compared, the three components of the Information Processing Theory indicate that both the Sensory and W orking memory are short term in nature. Their main roles are to screen incoming information, assign meaning, and relate individual units of information to other unit s. In contrast, l ong-term memory is a highly organized and permanent storage system. Sensory and working memory process few pieces of information within a short time frame.

Long-term memory is said to be more or less permanent an d unlimited in ter ms of its ability and capacity to store information . The main processing limitation on long-term memory is the individual’s ability to efficiently organiz e information so that it can be quickly encoded and retrieved when needed (Mc Crudden & Schraw , 2013) . It is the responsibility of educators to plan and utilize strategies to help our learners retain information more effectively .

It is important that every teacher becomes familiar with the Information Processing Theory, as by knowing this, they can assist their students in relation to remembering things more effectively within the classroom setting. According to Charlesworth & Slate (1988), the major theoretical concepts in cognitive psychology are attention, active learning, meaningfulness, organization, advanced organizers, memory aids, over learning and automaticity.

These concepts must be employed as strategies to improve the teaching-learning process within the classroom because this theory is based on cognitive perspectives. Firstly, educators must grasp the learners’ attention. Learning will not occur if the learner is not paying attenti on to the specific task. Charles worth & Slate (1988) states that “attention is a necessary precursor for learning” (p4). In order to do this, educators must motivate learners and employ good classroom management skills.

The teacher must ensure that he/she has the learners’ full attention before beginning a lesson. Distracters such as noise and bad lighting should be removed from the learning space before the lesson begins. Lessons must also be interactive, pausing to ask questions during the lesson, asking students to summarize points of the lesson. During instruction, teachers can also help learners to focus on important information by inflecting their voices and noting on the board and reviewing points. Also, simply moving around the classroom can help to retain learners’ attention.

Grover, Bruning & Filbek (as cited in Charlesworth & Slate, 1988), state that students must be actively engaged in the learning process. This can be achieved by promoting classroom discussions and engaging learners in group and individual activities that require them to put effort into completing th e tasks, cognitive effort must be expended for the class activity to be beneficial” ( Charlesworth & Slate, 1988). Charlesworth & Slate describe meaningfulness as one of the most important elements of the Information Processing Model.

Teachers must ensure that students are able to link new information to their prior knowledge and experiences. Therefore, information must be presented in a way that students will be able to understand and educators should provide learners with diagrams and examples to clearly illustrate these links. As students are activating their prior knowledge or Schema, as described by Piaget: and making connections , graphic organizers, such as a concept map , a flow chart, or a KWL chart can help to map their thinking.

Students can also be given assignments where they have to link prior knowledge to new information and can also be asked to simply paraphrase information . According to Vygotsky’s theory , these strategies are a form of Scaffolding as students learn to make these connections on their own. Scaffolding offers assistance and support for students to better understand concepts. When learners are required to actively process information and develop links instead of simply memorizing information, learning is more successful ( Klausmier , 1985, as cited in Ch arlesworth & Slate, 1988).

Organization is closely linked to meaningfulness. Dembo (1988) states tha t, i nformation that is presented in an organized fashion, is more meaningful and, therefore, more likely to be remembered than information that is not organized . When a learner properly organizes information, they tend to remember information that is stored in their long term memory more easily. Dembo (1988) suggests that educators present new information in a manner that is clear and organized.

Before beginning a lesson, students must be told what will be discussed; the teacher must give the objectives of the lesson. After the lesson, teachers can ask students to summarize what has been taught. Learners must also be taught about note taking as well as mapping skills; these skills will help them to organize information on their own. Ausubel (1978 ), describes advanced organizers as information that is presented to learners in advance of a body of new material that can be used by the learner.

It specifically aids students with organization and structure, which helps learners structure and understand new information. As previously discussed, educators must make the aims of the lesson clear, present the learning tasks, then have students actively process the information by summarizing it or formulating new examples. This makes learning more successful. For example, the teacher can use an organizer to show the relationship between addition and multiplication in Mathematics.

Students will be able to see and understand specific characteristics of each process as well as how they are related to each other. Ausubel’s theory also focused on how the mind works to process new information (learning) as well as how teachers apply these ideas about learning when they are presenting new concept to their students. Memory aids are another method of helping students to remember information through organization. According to Dembo (1988), memory aids provide structures which enable learners to organize unrelated bits of information.

Charlesworth & Slate (1988) discuss mnemonics and visual imagery as memory aids that significantly enhance the learning process. By definition, “Mnemonics are memory devices that help learners recall larger pieces of information, especially in the form of lists like characteristics, steps, stages, parts, phases, etc” (Congos, 2006). For example, a commonly usedRhyme Mnemonicfor the number of days in each month is: 30 days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31Except February my dear son.

It has 28 and that is fineBut in Leap Year it has 29 Over- learning is simply reviewing previously taught information. Educators can employ this method by repeating material or asking questions about a previous lesson at the beginning of a new lesson. Short monthly tests can also be given to learners, as well assignments where they are required to state information i n their own words. Researchers have found that this method enhances students’ ability to recall information (Lindgen & Suter, 1980 as cited in Charlesworth & Slate, 1988).

The process of reviewing material helps the learners to better understand the material, to clear up any misconceptions they may have previously had, thus, allowing the information to be organized and stored in their long-term memory. Through over-learning, some cognitive processes such as reading, writing and spelling can become automatic. When these processes are automatic, the learner does not need to put as much effort into using mechanics; they become effortless. Charlesworth & Slate (1988) explain that automaticity helps to free short-term memory so that the cognitive processes can focus on new information.

Students should therefore be given opportunities to engage in activities that promote automaticity. For example, teaching individual letter sounds through phonological awareness activities will enable students to decode words so that they can read. Once this is mastered, students will be able to read fluently without having to stop to sound-out each word individually; reading will be automatic. Not all skills will become automatic for some students, these students should be given extra time to complete these tasks.

In conclusion, the Information Processing Model provides a strong theoretical rationale supporting many traditional teaching techniques. Theories such as those belonging to Jean Paiget, Lev Vygotsky and David Ausubel have implications for the classroom that are linked to the Information Processing Theory. Once educators are able to understand this theoretical framework which is based on how persons think reason and learn and utilized these applications, the outcome should be enhanced learning for our students.


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