The Brainy Bunch


All About Information Processing


Cognitive information processing encompasses theoretical perspectives on the sequence and execution of cognitive events (Laureate Education, 2012). These events include the senses’ interaction with the environment, and the subsequent encoding of data (the process of emplacing new evidence into the information processing system) (Ormrod, Schunk, and Gredler, 2009). The novel information is then linked to prior knowledge.  After synthesis, it is organized (breaking information into parts and specifying relationships between parts), and subsequently stored in long-term memory as new knowledge (Ormond et al, 2009).  The concepts can eventually be retrieved as memory (depending on the impression of the learning footprint) when events dictate.  

The brain is the executor of this informational processing system (Laureate Education, 2012).  It is comprised, among other things, of short-term memory, or WM, and long-term memory (LTM) (Laureate Education, 2012).  It is in short-term memory that information processing begins with sensory (visual or auditory) input (Ormond et al, 2009) .  The appropriate sensory register receives it in sensory mode and maintains it for a brief instance.   Perception then takes place (the process of assigning meaning by matching input to known information, or, in other words pattern recognition) (Ormond et al, 2009). Information deemed important is rehearsed (practiced). Next, self-generated cues activate the WM’s more salient partner, the long-term memory. Parenthetically, LTM is organized by content and cross-referenced with related content (Ormond et al, 2009).

Almost simultaneously (an example of parallel processing), a schema is developed (Ormond et al, 2009).  This is a structure that organizes large amounts of information into a meaningful system while highlighting important information. This outline also provides sequenced and organized slots into which details are included.  For instance, when reading tragedy genres in literature, students would anticipate encountering themes that dwelt on good versus evil, human frailties, and dramatic events and outcomes (Ormond et al, 2009).  Consequently the sequenced and organized schematic framework, revolving around this prior understanding, would be in place for the student to hang appropriate details.  Or when reading a novel, the reader who has the prerequisite knowledge of setting, theme, plot, and resolution already has an organized structure upon which new, important information can be included (Ormond et al, 2009)

In a correlating context, other theories of information processing abound. One appertains to the concept of propositions.  A proposition is the smallest unit of information that can be perceived and judged true or false (Ormond et al, 2009).   Cognitive theorists hypothesize that these small chunks of data, or nodes as they are known, ultimately form networks of interrelated knowledge (Ormond et al, 2009).   For example, a network of nodes for language arts class might be composed of books, paper, pencils, word processors, a classroom, and the teacher. This interconnected new information moves as an organized entity from the WM to LTM for storage and retrieval.

Ultimately we must deal with the issue of forgetting.  Forgetting is the loss of material from memory due to decay (long-term inactivity) or interference. This latter concept, which references blockage of retrieval networks, occurs in two iterations. Retroactive interference occurs when new verbal associations make remembering prior ones difficult. Proactive interference refers to older associations that make more novel knowledge acquisition difficult. Forgetfulness can be mitigated by rehearsal, and by utilizing a number of multi-sensory avenues for the initial input of information (Ormond et al, 2009). 

In conclusion, four points related to these theories are highly relevant for educators. First, the more often a fact, event or idea is encountered, the stronger its representation in memory. To this perspective, elaboration is an important player. Elaboration is the process of adding information to the material being learned in the form of examples, details, inferences or anything that serves to link the new information with the old (Ormond et al, 2009). It also provides alternate paths upon which activation of prerequisite knowledge can spread.  Consequently, elaboration, as well as utilizing multi-sensory approaches to teaching, can strongly imprint the material in memory. A close corollary is stated thus: when an idea is associated with an impressionable event, the new knowledge will be stored in LTM in a manner that will make it highly retrievable. Secondly, Paivio’s dual coded theory contends that when the same data is stored in LTM memory in verbal/ linguistic form as well as imagery (mental representations of visual/ spatial knowledge), the likelihood for accurate retrieval rises exponentially (Laureate Education, 2012). Thirdly, organized material is easier to learn and recall since the items are linked to one and other systematically. Lastly, in addition to organization and elaboration, meaningfulness bolsters the learning and retrieval process. Meaningful material is highly personalized to the learner.  It is something students deem important, interesting, or relevant to their lives. Accordingly students are highly motivated as they take personal ownership of the learning material.






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