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In this presentation we were asked to describe “How learning takes place from the perspective of

information processing”. The information processing theory is an approach to the cognitive development

of a human being, which deals with the study and the analysis of the sequence of events that occur in a

persons mind while receiving some new piece of information. In short, it is the analysis of the way a human

being learns something new. The information processing theory laid down by experts in psychology claims

that the human mind is very similar to that of computers, as far as information processing and analysis is

concerned. They also say that any new piece of information that enters the brain is first analyzed and then

put through the test of several benchmarks before being stored in some vestibules of the memory. Since

these actions occur at a very fast speed, we are unable to notice them in action.

Donald A. Norman first conceptualized the information processing theory. Mr. Norman was born in 1935

and was an applied cognitive scientist. He was a well-established academic, who was well qualified with a

MS in electrical engineering as well as a doctorate in psychology.

Mr. Norman’s theory proposed that humans were information processors, with information moving from

input to output via a series of processing stages. The stages of information processing he identified are

encoding, comparison, response, selection and response execution.

Mr. Norman likened human processing to that of the computer stating that the human mind takes in

information, performs operations on it to change its form and context, stores it in the form of memory,

locates it and generates responses to it. The information-processing model depends on encoding, retention

and retrieval of information. Therefore memory is an integral aspect of information processing.

So what is memory? Memory is just one of many phenomena that demonstrate the brain’s complexity.

Memory is defined as the process by which information is encoded, stored and later retrieved (Rathus

2009). Encoding refers to the first perception and registration of material. Storage refers to the retention of

information and retrieval refers to the process involved in using the stored information. In other words, when

a person can recall information it means that they must have encoded it, stored it and retrieved it. It is clear

therefore that memory is a process. Memory, as unimportant as it may seem initially, is an integral and

necessary element in the lives of all animals. Having a memory helps us to function in our environment, as

we need it in our daily activities such as speaking, reading socializing, and thinking. All of these depend on

whether or not we have encoded, stored and are able to retrieve information.

Memory actually takes many different forms. We know that when we store a memory, we are storing

information. But, what that information is and how long we retain it determines what type of memory it is.
Sensory Memory

Sensory memory, one type of memory refers to the initial, momentary recording of

information in our sensory systems. When sensation strikes our eyes they linger briefly in the visual system.

This kind of memory is called iconic memory and refers to the usual brief persistence of information as it is

being interpreted by the visual system. Similar systems are assumed to exist for other sensory systems

(touch, taste and smell) although researchers have studied these senses less thoroughly.

At this time we will have a demonstration of the existence of sensory memory. (Ask members of the class to

recall as many letters from the images as they could).




Most of the class can only identify four or five letters accurately even though they were unable to name

According to American Psychologist George Sperling who conducted this experiment in 1960, the entire

letter-array image registered briefly in the sensory memory, but the image faded too quickly for subjects to

“see” all the letters. Usually sensory information coming in next replaces the old information. For example

when we move our eyes, new visual input masks or erase the first image. Information in sensory memory

usually vanishes unless it captures our attention and enters the working memory.
Episodic and Semantic

Another type of memory we will look at it is short-term memory. Psychologists originally used the term short-

term memory to refer to the ability to hold information in mind over a brief period of time. As conceptions of

short-term memory expands to include more than just the brief storage of information, psychologists created

new terminology. The term working memory is now commonly used to refer to a broader system that both

stores information briefly and allows manipulation and use of the stored information. We can keep

information circulating in working memory by rehearsing it. For example, suppose you look up a telephone

number in a directory. You can hold the number in memory almost indefinitely by sharing it over and over to

yourself, but if something distracts you for a moment, you may quickly loose it and have to look it up again.

Forgetting can occur rapidly from working memory. Psychologists often study working memory storage by

examining how well people remember a list of terms. In a typical experiment, people are presented with a

series of words, one every few seconds. Then they are instructed to recall as many of the words as they

can, in any order.

Most people remember the words at the beginning and end of the series better than those in the middle.

This phenomenon is called the serial position effect because the chance of recalling an item is related to

its position in the series. Working memory has a basic limitation: it can hold only a limited amount of

information at one time. Working memory is critical for mental work, or thinking. Suppose you are trying to

solve the arithmetic problem 64 multiply 9 in your head. You probably would need to perform some

intermediate calculations in your head before arriving at the final answer. The ability to carry out these kinds

of calculations depends on working memory capacity, which varies individually. Working memory capacity is

correlated with intelligence (as measured by intelligence tests). The more capacity people have to hold

information in mind while they think, the more intelligent they are. There are different types of working

memory – the ability to hold visual images in mind seems independent from the ability to retain verbal

information. Studies have also shown that working memory changes with age. (Memory Psychology

Encarta online 2007)

As children grow older, their working memory capacity increases. Working memory declines in old age and

in some types of diseases.

Long Term Memory

Long-term memory (LTM) in contrast to

short-term memory is memory that can last

as little as a few days or as long as decades. It

differs structurally and functionally from

working memory or short-term memory, which

stores items for only around 20–30

seconds. Biologically, short-term memory is a

temporary potentiation of neural connections

that can become long-term memory through

the process of rehearsal and meaningful

association. Much is not known about the

underlying biological mechanisms of long-term memory, but the process of long-term potentiation, which involves a

physical change in the structure of neurons, has been proposed as the mechanism by which short-term memories

move into long-term storage. The time scale involved at each level of memory processing remains under

investigation as long-term memory is subject to fading in the natural forgetting process.

The knowledge we store in LTM affects our perceptions of the world, and influences what information in the

environment we attend to. LTM provides the framework to which we attach new knowledge. It contrasts with short-

term and perceptual memory in that information can be stored for extended periods of time and the limits of its

capacity are not known.

Schemas are mental models of the world. Information in LTM is stored in interrelated networks of these schemas.

These, in turn, form intricate knowledge structures. Related schemas are linked together, and information that

activates one schema also activates others that are closely linked. This is how we recall relevant knowledge when

similar information is presented. These schemas guide us by diverting our attention to relevant information and allow

us to disregard what is not important.

Episodic and Semantic

Since LTM storage is organized into schemas, instructional designers should activate existing schemas before

presenting new information. This can be done in a variety of ways, including graphic organizers, curiosity-arousing

questions, movies, etc.

LTM also has a strong influence on perception through top-down processing - our prior knowledge affects how we

perceive sensory information. Our expectations regarding a particular sensory experience influence how we interpret


Long-term memory processes

There are three main activities related to long term memory: storage, deletion and retrieval.

Information from short-term memory is stored in long-term memory by rehearsal. The repeated exposure to a

stimulus or the rehearsal of a piece of information transfers it into long-term memory. Experiments also suggest that

learning time is most effective if it is distributed over time. Deletion is mainly caused by decay and interference.

Emotional factors also affect long-term memory. However, it is debatable whether we actually ever forget anything or

whether it becomes increasingly difficult to access certain items from memory. Having forgotten something may just

be caused by not being able to retrieve it! Information may not be recalled sometimes but may be recognized, or may

be recalled only with prompting. This leads us to the third process of memory: information retrieval.

There are two types of information retrieval: recall and recognition. In recall, the information is reproduced from

memory. In recognition on the other hand, the presentation of the information provides the knowledge that the

information has been seen before. Recognition is of lesser complexity, as the information is provided as a cue.

However, the recall can be assisted by the provision of retrieval cues which enable the subject to quickly access the

information in memory.

Organization of Information in LTM

Given the vast amount of information that a person stores in long-term memory during a lifetime, there must be some

highly efficient way to access this formation when it is needed otherwise we would spend weeks or months just trying

to recall the simplest things. A library organizes its books by assigning them a catalog number and placing them on

the shelves by call number. A catalog allows you to look up the book by author, title, or subject and determine its call

number, thus allowing you to efficiently locate the book on the shelf. In some way, the brain must do something like

the same to allow you to retrieve memories efficiently.

Episodic and Semantic

We still have much to learn about the process by which the brain accesses its stored information, but a key element

in that process is the ability of certain inputs, both sensory experiences and internally generated inputs (from thought

or imagination), to activate memory traces through associative links. That is, the human memory system uses what

computer individuals term associative addressing. For example, the sound of a word produces a pattern of activity in

the brain that in some way matches a stored pattern for that sound; activation of that stored pattern (the remembered

word) in turn, through associative connections, activates other memory traces of information associated with the

word. Thus the sound (or sight if you are reading) of the word "basket" brings immediate recognition and with it,

access to all sorts of information about baskets -- how they look, what they are made of, what they are used for, and

so on. Thus, given an appropriate input cue, the cue stimulates activity in the brain that results in the retrieval of all

sorts of information you have stored relating to that cue.

This associative model implies that if you lack an appropriate cue, you will not be able to recall information even

though it is stored in your brain. It also implies that information you may have thought you had forgotten may be

retrieved if you can find the right retrieval cue.

The model also explains how we often can come up with information so quickly -- the retrieval cue immediately

activates the memory trace associated with it, or a small set of traces that can be searched quickly for relevance to

the question being answered. The model also shows how it is that we can quickly determine that we don't know

something if the information we seek is not retrieved by the retrieval cue, then it likely isn't there.

Long-Term Memory Classifications

Long-term memories belong to two broad categories: declarative -- information you can verbalize and procedural --

skilled movements (procedures). Declarative memories are further subdivided into semantic and episodic

memories: Which my colleague will now examine.

Episodic and Semantic

One unique form of declarative memory is episodic memory, which attempts to capture information such as “what”,

“when” and “where” [Clayton and Dickinson, 1998] [Nyberg, et al., 1996]. It is this memory structure that remembers

events that are observed through experience [Nuxoll and Laird, 2004]. In its simplest form, episodic memory can be

considered somewhat analogous to a snapshot from one’s past experience. One of the main features ascribed to

episodic memory by Tulving is that it, in essence, allows an agent to “travel back in time” [Tulving, 2002]. This

concept is based on the supposition that episodic memory allows an agent to be consciously aware of a re-

experience. Therefore, an agent retrieving an episode from episodic memory should not confuse the feelings of the

re-experience with their ordinary, real-time, awareness of the situation. In other words, recalling an episode may

cause an agent to internally experience some of the sensations present during that previous experience, but this is

not confused with the current perception of the environment (i.e. recalling an experience of eating an unpleasant food

does not make the hamburger a person is currently eating taste unpleasant). This ability to recall provides the agent

with a means of associating previous feelings with current situations.

Example 1: Remembering that you went to your uncle’s house in New York when you were 11yrs old is an episodic


Example 2: Remembering what happened in the last football world cup uses episodic memory.

Semantic memory is the part of long-term memory dealing with words, their symbols, and meanings.

Semantic memory allows humans to communicate with language. In semantic memory, the brain stores information

about words, what they look like and represent, and how they are used in an organized way. It is unusual for a person

to forget the meaning of the word "dictionary," or to be unable to conjure up a visual image of a refrigerator when the

word is heard or read. Semantic memory contrasts with episodic memory, where memories are dependent upon a

relationship in time. Some examples of semantic memory are:

Example 1: The rules of how to conjugate verbs in the Spanish language or knowing the past participle or the subject

and verb of words in the English language.

Example 2: Another example of semantic memory is the recall of famous persons’ names like the name of famous


When we say that episodic memory is memory for events and semantic memory is memory for facts, we are

distinguishing between these two types of memory based on the types of information that is remembered. Endel

Tulving 1985 has, however, suggested that episodic and semantic memory can also be distinguished based on the

type of experience associated with each.

Procedural Memory

This type of memory refers to the skill that human possess like tying shoe laces, riding a bicycle, swimming, and

driving a car. It is expressed through performance and typically does not require a conscious effort to recall. Once

you have learnt it you don’t just forget it but rather it becomes a part of you.

People best gain procedural knowledge by practicing the procedures directly and partially through instructions given

in words, for example verbal coaching in sports, is partly a case of trying to impart procedural knowledge through

declarative means, although coaching by example. There is in most cases no substitution for practice.

Interaction of long term memory systems:

Although long-term episodic, semantic, and procedural memories all represent independent systems, it would usually

be wrong to think of a particular task as relying exclusively on one type. Remembering yesterday’s events, knowing

that David Thompson was the Prime Minister or tying your shoe laces represent purely relatively pure cases, however

most human activities rely on the interaction of long-term memory systems. If you know how to set the table with the

fork to the left of the plate and the knife to the right, this is procedural memory, semantic memory or even episodic

memory form having seen it done before.

Procedural memory also relates to cognitive behavior such as reading or remembering (The mental procedures we

execute to perform these activities.