Information Processing

 

When we deal with information, we do so in steps. One way to think of this is to picture the process of acquiring, retaining, and using information as an activity called information processing, which is diagrammed in Figure 6.1. Information comes from the outside world into the sensory registers in the human brain. This input consists of things perceived by our senses. We are not consciously aware of most of the things we perceive; we become aware of them only if we consciously direct our attention to them. When we do focus our attention on them, they are placed in our working memory.

 

Figure 6.1. A model of human information processing.

Another name for our working memory is short-term memory. Our working memory has a very limited capacity - we can attend to only about seven items at a time. Therefore, we must take one of the following actions with regard to each piece of information that comes into this short-term storage area: (1) continuously rehearse it, so that it stays there; (2) move it out of this area by shifting it to long-term memory; or (3) move it out of this area by forgetting it.

 

Long-term memory, as its name implies, stores information for a long time. The advantage of long-term memory is that we do not have to constantly rehearse information to keep it in storage there. In addition, there is no restrictive limit on the amount of information we can store in long-term memory. If we move information to long-term memory, it stays there for a long time - perhaps permanently! To make use of this information in long term memory, we must move it back to our working memory, using a process called retrieval.

It may be convenient to view information processing as parallel to the way in which an executive manages a business. Information comes into the business across the executive's desk - mail, phone calls, personal interactions, problems, etc. (This is like short-term memory.) Some of this information goes into the waste basket (like being forgotten), and some of it is filed (like being stored in long-term memory). In some cases, when new information arrives, the executive gets old information from a file and integrates the new information with the old before refiling it. (This is like retrieving information from long-term memory to integrate it with new information then storing the new information in long-term memory.) On other occasions the executive may dig out the information in several old files and update the files in some fashion or integrate them in some way to attack a complex problem. The business of human learning operates in much the same manner.

Figure 6.1 represents an imperfect model - an oversimplification of human thought processes. We all engage in information processing; but nobody - not even the greatest neurological scientist in the world - fully understands what happens when we do so. It is virtually certain that within the next twenty-five or fifty years somebody will develop a better model to explain human thinking more precisely. Nevertheless, this model does provide useful insights into how to help learners acquire and retain information. It is also important to note that the components of memory undergo considerable development as the child grows into adulthood (Schneider, 1989).

 

A Short Quiz on Figure 6.1

 

 

1. From what sources does information enter the working memory?

a. external stimuli

b. sensory register

c. short-term memory

d. long-term memory

{See answer}

 

2. From what source does information enter long-term memory?

a. external stimuli

b. sensory register

c. short-term memory

d. procedural memory

{See answer}

 

3. What process causes information to move into the sensory register?

a. perception

b. attention

c. retrieval

d. rehearsal

e. encoding

{See answer}  

 

4. What process causes information to move from the sensory register to working memory?

a. perception

b. attention

c. retrieval

d. rehearsal

e. encoding

{See answer}  

 

5. What process causes information to stay in the working memory?

a. perception

b. attention

c. retrieval

d. rehearsal

e. encoding

{See answer}  

 

6. What process causes information to move from working memory to long-term memory?

a. perception

b. attention

c. retrieval

d. rehearsal

e. encoding

{See answer}  

 

7. What process causes information to move from long-term memory to short-term memory? 

a. perception

b. attention

c. retrieval

d. rehearsal

e. encoding

{See answer}  

 

8. What happens to information in the working memory that is not encoded?

a. it is never learned

b. it is rehearsed

c. it returns to the sensory register

d. it moves to long-term memory

e. it moves to short-term memory

{See answer}

 

9. What happens to information that does not move from the sensory register to short-term memory?

a. it is never learned.

b. it is learned, but quickly forgotten.

c. it can be learned, but only if it is rehearsed constantly.

d. it can be learned, but only if it is encoded.

{See answer}

 

Answers to Short Quiz on Figure 6.1

1. b and d {Return}

 

2. c and d {Return}

 

3. b {Return}

 

4. b {Return}

 

5. d {Return}

 

6. e {Return}

 

7. c {Return}

 

8. a {Return}

 

9. a {Return}

 


 

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