MET:Information Processing

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by Melissa Anders (2008)

Information processing includes theories that focus on the structure and function of mental processing. They focus on these structures and functions within specific contexts and environments (Huitt, 2003). In other words, information processing theories focus on how people pay attention to events occurring within the environment, how they encode that information by relating it to knowledge currently stored in memory, how the new information is stored and finally, how that information is later retrieved when needed (Schunk, 2004). Therefore, it focuses on cognitive processes.

The Beginnings

The beginnings of Cognitive Psychology were seen around the late 1950s. At this time, computers were becoming more widely used because of the developments in their capabilities to manipulate large amounts of data at a rapid pace (NSW HSC). Information Processing stemmed from Cognitive Psychology by using the computer to model the thought process of human beings (NSW HSC). Unlike Behaviourists, Information Processing theorists do not believe that learning is based on making associations between stimuli and responses (Schunk, 2004). They tend to focus more on the internal processes that are involved between stimuli and responses rather than the external conditions. Therefore, learners are active agents in seeking and processing information. They follow a process of selecting and attending to environmental features, transform and rehearse information, connect new information to previous knowledge and organize the information in such a way to make it meaningful to them (Schunk, 2004). Three common beliefs among Information Processing theorists are:

  • Information Processing occurs in stages (Schunk, 2004).
  • Information Processing is used in all cognitive activities including perceiving, rehearsing, thinking, problem solving, remembering, forgetting, and imaging (Schunk, 2004).
  • Information Processing in humans can be related to computer processing (NSW HSC; Schunk, 2004).

Stage Theory

Stage theory was developed based on the work done by Atkinson and Shirfron in 1968. This theory proposes that when a person encounters a stimulus, the information is processed and stored in 3 different stages (Huitt, 2003).

Sensory Memory

At this stage, the brain receives an input based on the five senses - sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. If a person is paying attention, these inputs are transformed into small memories and are then transfered to short term memory or working memory If there is no attention to these inputs, the memory is lost (Huitt, 2003).

Short Term/Working Memory

At this stage, information in our immediate consciousness is stored (Schunk, 2004). Information here will only last between 15 and 20 seconds unless the information is repeater or related to pre-existing knowledge. If these connections are made, the information then moves on to long tern memory

Long Term Memory

Information stored in long term memory is organized in many different ways with many different connections between pieces of information. Our long term memory has a very large capacity to hold more information than we can imagine (Huitt, 2003; Schunk, 2004).

Alternatives to Stage Theory

Although Stage theory is widely accepted, there are 3 other theories of information processing that are accepted as well (Huitt, 2003).


This theory introduced by Craik and Lockhart in 1972 proposes that people use different levels of elaboration as they process information. They believe that all information that causes a stimulus is retained in memory, just at different levels (Huitt, 2003), (Clark, 2004). For example, the word Learn can be processes on many different levels. Remembering that the word was blue or all capital letters is a low level of processing. Understanding how to use this word in a sentence demonstrates a high level of processing. Understanding how to use this word in a sentence demonstrates a high level of processing. Therefore, the level at which the information was processed will contribute to the accessibility and the ability to retrieve the memory (Huitt, 2003).

Parallel-Distributed Processing

In this theory, it it believed that information is processed simultaneously in different areas of the mind. Therefore, when a piece on information is processed, memories will be formed in both short term and long term memory. This is in opposition to the stage theory which proposes that information goes from one area of memory to the next in a sequential order (Huitt, 2003).


In 1986, RumelHart and McClellans proposed this model of processing (Huitt, 2003). This theory is an extension to the Parallel Distributed Processing model. The main claim in this theory is that information is stored in many different locations at one time within the brain. Connections are made between different pieces of information which help in retrieval. When a person thinks of a word, that word can be linked to many other words, ideas, and feelings that have been connected to the original piece of information. The more connections there are to a particular piece of information or concept, the more likely that concept will be remembered and the easier it will be to recall (Huitt, 2003).

Human Information Processing Like a Computer?


Human Information Processing can metaphorically be compared to computer processing. In a computer, information is entered using an input device such as a keyboard or a scanner. In humans, these input devices could be compared to the ears, eyes and all other senses. The computer takes the inputed information, organizes it in specific locations and saves it until further use. The human mind does this as well when it makes connections and organizes information so that it can be recalled later when needed. The working memory or short term memory can be compared with a computers Central Processing Unit. In a computer, the CPU acts as the brain of the computer. Working memory is the area where we think about the information presented to us and process it in specific ways. Once the information has been processed and rehearsed, it then moves on to long term memory. In a computer, information is stored on hard drives, memory sticks and CDs. Computers can demonstrate the information they have through displays on the screen or on printed paper. Humans demonstrate their knowledge by acting in everyday life; walking, talking and doing (NSW HSC), (Schunk, 2004).

Using Information Processing in the Classroom

1. Gain the students' attention
  • Use cues to signal when you are ready to begin.
  • Move around the room and use voice inflections.
2. Bring to mind relevant prior knowledge
  • Review previous day's lesson.
  • Have a discussion about previously covered content.
3. Point out important information
  • Provide handouts.
  • Write on the board or use transparencies.
4. Present information in an organized manner
  • Show a logical sequence to concepts and skills.
  • Go from simple to complex when presenting new material.
5. Show students how to organize (chunk) related information
  • Present information in categories.
  • Teach inductive reasoning
6. Provide opportunities for students to elaborate on new information
  • Connect new information to something already known.
  • Look for similarities and differences among concepts.
7. Show students how to use coding when memorizing lists
  • Make up silly sentence with first letter of each word in the list.
  • Use mental imagery techniques such as the keyword method.
8. Provide for repetition of learning
  • State important principles several times in different ways during presentation of information (STM).
  • Have items on each day's lesson from previous lesson (LTM).
  • Schedule presiodic reviews of previously learned concepts and skills (LTM).
9. Provide opportunities for overlearning of fundamental concepts and skills
  • Use daily drills for arithmetic facts.
  • Play form of trivial pursuit with content related to class.

(Huitt, 2003).


Clark, D.R. (2004). Levels of processing. Retrieved February 26, 2008, from

Huitt, W. (2003}. The information processing approach to cognition . Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved February 24, 2008, from

Kearsley, G. (2008). Information processing theory (G. Miller). The Theory into Practice Database. Retrieved February 24, 2008, from

NSW HSC Online Professional Development Node. Information Processing. Retrieved February 24, 2008, from

Schunk, D.H. (2004). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective (pp 136-189; ch. 4 - Information Processing}. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.