4 Postulates of Information Processing Theory For Educators
Memory is a tricky process. We can easily remember the multiplication tables, learned in the 3rd grade. But we can struggle remembering about a dentist appointment we scheduled a couple of weeks ago. This peculiar tendency is actually called information processing, and there’s an entire theory built around it. As an educator, it’s well worth knowing some of its key concepts.
What is Information Processing Theory?
In short, information process theory is a thesis that speaks to how we conceive and convert information through brain functions that:
- Receive information through our senses
- Filter that information
- Decide what gets stored in our short-term (working) memory
- Ultimately store some information in our long-term memory
The key idea is that we develop long-term memory in stages. And different things can impact the way we choose to retain certain information (or not).
The Key Postulates of Information Processing Theory
Source: University of South Australia
We Have Three Storage Compartments in Our Brains
As illustrated in the diagram above, we have sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.
Sensory memory is that part of the brain that takes in information from our five senses. It’s at work 24/7, has a lot of storage capacity, but cannot hold information for very long. New data is always coming in, and we cannot process it all. So, we have to decide what to keep and what to ignore.
Working (short-term) memory is where the action is. Students will process information that has come in. Its capacity is smaller. So, if you are trying to remember something (items you intend to get at the grocery store), and you run into a friend and talk for a few minutes, you may be likely to forget an item or two.
Long-term memory is the permanently stored information (those multiplication tables) that never goes away. It is not always recalled, but it is there. Its capacity is virtually unlimited, especially for images.
The Key to Permanent Storage is What Happens Between Working Memory and Long-Term Memory Stages
Working memory is responsible for processing all incoming information and storing it for “quick access”. To achieve that, we have a “rehearsal” mechanism. And there are two kinds of rehearsals:
- Maintenance rehearsal is easy. As you go into the grocery store, you keep repeating to yourself the items you need to get. You shop, pick up those items, and then the memory is gone.
- Elaborative rehearsal is a deeper form and is where information can be processed and remembered. Why? Because you have prior knowledge in your long-term memory that you can relate this information to. If those grocery items are for a meal you are cooking tonight, and that recipe is already in your long-term memory, you can think about that recipe and re-create your shopping list. You have connected that “learning” to previous learning that is in your long-term memory.
Information Remains In Short-Term Memory As Long As You Rehearse It
Think about how you memorized those dates of Civil War battles back in the school days. You probably repeated them to yourself over and over again until you took that test. Once the test was over, they were forgotten.
Your maintenance rehearsal was over, and you did not have anything in the long-term memory to connect those dates too. Gone.
But, when that information can be connected to some previous learning stored in your long-term memory, it “adds up” to your long-term memory box. That’s elaborative rehearsal in action.
Think about how children learn to read, for example. They begin by learning the alphabet and the sounds that the letters make. With lots of practice, this information builds upon itself and is stored in long-term memory. When presented with a new word, then, the child can “sound out” the letters and come up with a reasonable pronunciation.
Long-Term Memory is Unlimited and Stores Information Indefinitely
If we can get information into our long-term memories, it will always be there, and recall can be automatic. Think back to those multiplication tables. We can still recite 8 X 4 = 32. And over the years, think about how much has been stored in that long-term memory since 3rd grade. You have mastered concepts and skills that will always be with you – reading, for example. If you use the information in your long-term memory regularly, then you will be able to recall it with ease. If you don’t use that information, it is still there. Recall is just more difficult.
Key Implications of Information Processing Model for Classroom Learning
If you want your students to truly learn and remember things, rather than pile up things in their working memory, there are several things you can do:
Break the bigger concepts into manageable chunks. So that your students can retain the key bits in their “smaller” short-term memory and then encode that bulk into the long-term one. When presented with more complex ideas, most will struggle to keep pace with the incoming information.
Focus on those rehearsals. But don’t just repeat the same thing over and over again. Instead, try to engrain the new knowledge by mixing and matching different ways of memorization:
The goal is to help students connect this new skill or concept to what they previously stored in their long-term memory.
Aid with the right information presentation. To help with processing, connect the new ideas with the older concepts with the following information organization techniques:
- Connect ideas by component, moving from part to whole.
- Use sequential connections e.g. by chronology, cause/effect.
- Try the chunking technique
- Organize ideas by relevance, around one central unifying idea or criteria
Let’s face it: most of us cannot improve the student’s memory per se. But we can help them process the incoming information by controlling the learning environment and dictating how the learning is to occur. Using the key premises of the information processing model, you can adapt your teaching style accordingly and focus on delivering long-term learning, rather than encourage students to remember things until the next test!
And when they do, don’t forget to show them some appreciation and perhaps even dole out some rewards. You can find plenty of free certificate templates to pick & choose on our website.
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