Information Processing Theory and Impact on Learning

The Information Processing Theory is an approach to cognitive development that suggests humans process information they receive. This theory contrasts a behaviourist that humans simply respond to stimuli. This theory suggests that information is processed in stages, much like the way in which a computer processes data (Orey 2002). Information enters the brain (or computer) through our senses (mouse/keyboard). Next, the information is processed in our working memory (processor/ram), where it is stored and recalled from specific areas of our long-term memory (hard drive). This recalled information can lead to an output response to the stimuli (monitor).

Our sensory memory intakes information through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. If we decide to pay attention to certain stimuli, it moves into our short-term memory, also known as our working memory as it is the place where we process information. In order for information to be stored in our long-term memory and formally learned, the information must be elaborated on through rehearsal to consolidate the new data.

Adapted from: Lutz, S. & Huitt, W. (2003).

We can then organize new information into existing knowledge sets (if information is similar to prior information) or create a completely new knowledge structure if the new information is unlike anything we have experienced before. Once information is stored in our long-term memory, we can later recall this knowledge back into our working memory to compare to incoming information or help elaborate on our knowledge experiences.

Many of these operations involve executive function to pay attention to new information, attend to rehearsal practices in the working memory and help consolidate information into our long-term memory. Unfortunately, new information can be lost at all stages of information processing.  If incoming stimulus is not paid attention to in our sensory memory, our brain does not notice the information. In our short-term memory, only a maximum of five stimulus can be used at once - if this information is not encoded within 15-30 seconds it will be lost altogether. In long-term memory retrieval, there are also chances of encoding failure during information consolidation if elaboration does not occur or the information cannot be properly organized in existing knowledge structures. Finally, information in long-term memory could be lost through a retrieval failure or “overridden” if new information contradicts something previously learned.

Watch my visual breakdown of the stages of the theory and applications to classroom practice:

When considering the stages of the Information Processing Theory, there are 5 easy steps teachers can take to support students in the acquisition of new information.

RECEPTION to ensure teachers gain students’ attention using an abrupt stimulus change to focus students’ sensory memory on the lesson. 
I like to use music or short video clips to gain students’ attention. Catchy songs such as this Information Literacy Song or the Literary Devices Rap work well.

RETRIEVAL educators should stimulate recall of prior learning and skills from students’ long-term memory into their working memory. 
I like to use kinesthetic warmups that gets the students moving around and talking to peers other than their elbow partner. Simple activities work great such as having the students move around the room and when the music stops (often I use the songs above), I yell out a number. Students must form a group with that many people and answer a question about the content from the previous lesson. Scholastics's Mind Up Curriculum books are full of such activities.

RECEIVE information transmitted by the teacher that should have distinctive features and suggest a meaningful organization of ideas for students. 
I started “branding” my lessons by using the same template and colour scheme for all lesson within a unit. For other skills such as the MYP Approaches to Learning, I always use the same cover slide. I have also started using less unconnected slides and utilising animations to put together the “pieces” of a slide. Finally, acronyms and step-by-step procedures have become the focus of my lessons. For example, when I was teaching my students about how to find reliable online sources, I began the lesson by playing the research song, played the kinesthetics warmup game, then introduce an acronym to help them remember the criteria for reliable websites:

RESPOND or experience the information for themselves to absorb knowledge into their preexisting knowledge sets by eliciting performance from students. 
Arguably the most important step in student learning! Students need to immediately do something with their new knowledge. When introducing the CRAP acronym for determining reliable resources, I had students decide whether example websites are reliable or not. One issue I often run into for this stage is running out of time when I have 30 minute class time blocks. What I have come to learn is it is better to break up the learning into smaller pieces where students have the opportunity to immediately respond to new knowledge, rather than using a whole block to introduce content and the following block as a work period. 

REINFORCE by providing ongoing feedback to students and especially give them additional performance opportunities to apply the feedback. 
Encouraging students to make mistakes and learn from those “failures” is key. I try to give as many opportunities for students to experiment with new ideas by offering several chances to practice new skills. I aim to give my students individual verbal feedback once a week and written feedback every other week. Since I utilise Google for Education Apps Suite in my teaching, this is often done through the comments function. I have learned to create one ongoing template my students work in throughout a unit so all of my comments and their work is in one place. This way, it is easy for both myself and students to see their ongoing progress.

More than anything, learning about the Information Processing Theory reminded me of the importance of lesson warm-ups and "hooking" students into a learning activity. The theory also offers a simple explanation of how memory may work and is something I have even taught my students to make them more away of their own learning behaviours. 


Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

Orey, M. (2002). Information Processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from

No comments:

Post a Comment