Information Processing Theory was first developed by psychologists in America in the 1950s. The theory focuses on how the human brain processes and stores information from initial exposure to learning content or stimuli to long-term memory storage.
The information processing cycle begins with the learner being exposed to the learning content through a variety of senses.
Though much of the sensory information will be lost almost immediately, the most relevant information is transferred to the short-term or working memory where it needs to be rehearsed and practised. This is where the learner makes sense of the information before it is sent to the long-term memory for storage.
This process also involves retrieving previously stored information and making connections that grow the knowledge base. Any information that becomes superseded through this process may ultimately be lost as it’s no longer needed.
It’s a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where each new piece enhances and builds on the previously constructed picture.
When it comes to putting Information Processing Theory into practice, there are a few important things to remember that will assist with the learner's retention of information and ultimately lead to enhanced learning outcomes.
There’s a limit to the amount of information a learner can be expected to take in and process at any time. It’s important not to overwhelm the learners with too much content, or the majority of the information will be lost and forgotten.
For example, teaching someone how to bake a cake from start to finish by showing them the entire process and then expecting them to remember and retrieve it all is not going to lead to a very successful learning experience.
If the information you’re delivering is broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks, it’s more likely that the learner will have greater retention because they have time to practice and process each step before moving on to the next.
It’s also important to ensure that the chunks of information are delivered in a logical sequence so that each new piece of information can be linked to the previous information learned. For example, trying to teach someone to walk, then crawl, then run doesn’t make any sense; however, a logical sequence of crawl, walk, and run makes sense.
As well as making connections between new chunks of information and what’s already been learned, contextualisation through the use of real-life situations, scenarios and the learner’s own previous experiences will provide the learner with additional links that will help them to more efficiently process the information and more successfully store it in the long-term memory.
Not everyone responds to the same kind of learning stimuli, so it is important to use multi-sensory resources when delivering content. This may include providing the learners with a physical example of what they’ll be learning about such as a piece of equipment or a product sample.
This will allow the learners to use the see, touch, and smell senses to get an overall idea of the big picture. This can then be supported orally through explanation and the use of other images, texts and diagrams that present the information visually. Learners will remember the information via the senses that engage them the most.
In summary, successful implementation of the Information Processing Theory model involves the learning content being broken down into small chunks and delivered to the learners in a logical sequence.
The delivery must incorporate links between what has been learned, real-world examples and the learner's experiences. Additionally, learning resources should be presented using a variety of multi-sensory stimuli to accommodate different learning styles.
When implemented correctly, these factors will ensure learners gain a solid understanding of the content they’re presented with, which can be more efficiently processed from the sensory input stage to encoding it into their long-term memory and accurately recalling the knowledge to use or build on as needed.