How students learn

Information processing


The information processing theory is based on the idea that humans actively process the information they receive from their senses, like a computer does. Learning is what is happening when our brains recieve information, record it, mould it and store it. 

In information processing theory, as the student takes in information, that information is first briefly stored as sensory storage; then moved to the short term or working memory; and then either forgotten or transferred to the long term memory, as:

  • semantic memories (concepts and general information)
  • procedural memories (processes)
  • images

For learning to occur, it's critical that information is transferred from the short term memory to the long term memory, because if we have more than seven pieces of information in our short term memory at one time, we get an overload (referred to as cognitive overload).

So how to we avoid cognitive overload with students? If teachers prioritizing the information they give students, they help students to work our the critical elements of the information. 

Make sure you have the students’ attention, and help students to make connections between new material and what they already know. (Image to the right adapted from Cognitive Approach to Learning.)

Include lesson time for repetition and review of information, present material in a very clear manner, and focus on the meaning of information.

Download document Helping students memorise: Tips from cognitive science