Information Processing Theory: Models & Real-Life Examples

Information Processing Theory: Models & Real-Life Examples

Knowledge retention is an important aspect to develop in the workplace, at school, and even in your private life. Information processing is how we make sense of the world around us and retain important pieces of information.

Improving memory retention during employee and VET training means understanding how people process and retain information. This is where Information Processing Theory comes into play. 

What is Information Processing Theory?

Information Processing Theory, or Informational Process Theory, is a cognitive theory that aims to understand how people perceive, process, and store information. 

Think of the human brain as a computer where information is processed and stored. The CPU stands for our short-term memory, while we store important information in the hard drive or long-term memory. 

Like a computer, the human brain has limited capacity and our cognitive processes determine which information gets stored in long-term memory. Unlike computers, however, we have the cognitive abilities to do immense parallel processing, where we can react to multiple stimuli and process a significant amount of data at the same time.  

employee learning about information processing theory

Information Processing Theory Models

There are two main models for cognitive information processing theory: 

  1. Working Memory Information Processing Model 
  2. Multi-store Model 

In VET and workplace training, you can use these theories to better understand cognitive processes. This will help you create bespoke learning experiences to better retain the information provided in training modules. 

1. The Working Memory Model

This model, proposed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch, aims to provide an understanding of cognitive development. The theory describes how processing systems transform information based on specific stimuli:

  • Central Executive – Housed in the frontal lobe of the brain, and is believed to be the central processing unit responsible for processing information between different memory stores.
  • Phonological Loop – Holds auditory information.
  • Visuospatial Sketchpad – Holds spatial and visual information.
  • Episodic Buffer – Also known as “Episodic Memory,” this holds information based on motivational and emotional factors.

4 processing areas of the working memory model

2. The Multi-store Model

Also known as the Atkinson and Shiffrin model, the Multi-store Model was proposed by John William Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin in 1968. This model features three stages of information processing: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

  • Sensory Memory – Sensory memory is the initial stage of memory, briefly storing raw sensory data to help us make sense of our environment and process information.
  • Short-term Memory – Short-term memory, also known as “Working Memory,” requires focus and attention to transfer information to long-term memory. Information is stored in short-term memory for 30 seconds, making it crucial to use repetition and other memory strategies for better retention. 
  • Long-term Memory – Long-term memory acts as a database of information for the human mind, personal experiences, semantic memory, and more. Knowledge retained from significant events, learnings, and training is stored in this component, which can be retrieved later on.

informational processing stages of multi store model

Informational Processing Theory Use Cases: 3 Real World Examples

1. Adapting Information Processing Theory for the Workplace 

Enhancing Employee Training

You can adapt the informational processing theory to improve employee training. This involves tailoring your training methods to suit the needs of your organisation and the overall learning style of your employees. 

While not all methods and techniques for information processing will be suitable for your organisation, common ones include:

  1. Chunking – Chunking improves memory retention and prevents information overload by breaking down and organising information into smaller, manageable pieces.
  2. Tailored Learning – Tailored learning, also called Bespoke Learning, this technique tailors training according to the employee’s learning style. 
  3. Active Learning – Active learning, or On-the-job Training, is a method of learning where the individual gains knowledge through hands-on learning, situational training, and the like. This is especially useful for deskless workers, where there are more practical workplace experiences. 

Assessing Employee Knowledge and Skills

The information processing theory is valuable for assessing employees during training programs. This is applicable to both desktop and deskless workers in skill-specific industries. By applying this theory, we measure program effectiveness, identify skill gaps, and improve training. 

Here are some common strategies that apply the information processing theory:

  1. Varied Assessment Formats – Using written or oral quizzes, practical demonstrations, tests, and other types of assessment can provide a comprehensive evaluation of an employee’s or candidate’s skill set. 
  2. Spaced Testing – Spaced testing refers to evaluating an employee in intervals, allowing them to review and consolidate their learnings between intervals for better long-term knowledge retention.
  3. Real-world Application – Real-world applications and practical demonstrations are types of assessment methods that can evaluate an employee’s or candidate’s knowledge through specific scenarios. This type of assessment allows employers to assess both their theoretical and practical knowledge. 

Facilitating Knowledge Transfer among Deskless Workers

In mobile workplaces, information processing plays a vital role in facilitating knowledge transfer among deskless workers. This fosters skills development, improves decision-making, and enhances overall productivity. Ensuring everyone is on the same page empowers the workforce to excel, regardless of their location.

2. Information Processing Theory in Vocational Education and Training (VET)

Applying Cognitive Psychology Strategies

The information processing theory serves as an efficient tool for optimizing learning methods and improving knowledge retention. Considering the cognitive processes involved in memory retention significantly bolsters Learning Experiences (LXs) in VET. 

By incorporating the information processing theory models in modules, learners can better understand, assimilate, and retain knowledge in their long-term memory. This, in turn, enhances their efficiency and performance in the workplace in the long run.

informational processing techniques for better skills building

Tailoring Information Storage Techniques for Skill-Building

By tailoring information processing techniques, learners can better store information, making them easily accessible when applying newly-learned skills. 

Some techniques studied in cognitive psychology can also be used in VET. These techniques are meant to work with mental processes, enabling learners to improve their cognitive performances. Some well-known techniques include:

  • Space Repetition: Human memory tends to retain information better when it is repeated multiple times. However, relying solely on repetition may not always yield optimal results. Spaced repetition involves distributing a review of information over a longer period with increasingly longer intervals between each session. This leverages our capacity for spaced learning, improving cognitive performance and long-term knowledge retention.
  • Auditory or Visual Aids: Incorporating auditory aids like recorded lectures, along with visual aids such as infographics and videos, may help learners absorb information better. These tools create a comprehensive learning environment that maximizes knowledge retention and skill development in vocational fields.
  • Mnemonic Devices: Mnemonic devices refer to acronyms, patterns, visualisations, and other tools that help the brain process information. These are used to enhance knowledge retention through association and are efficient tools in VET. 

Common mnemonic devices include:

  • Acronyms – Acronyms, like ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet), combines the initial of each word to form a word or phrase.
  • Visual, auditory or mental pictures – Associating certain topics or materials with visual, auditory, or mental imagery can help remember important information related to them. 
  • Acrostics – Acrostics, like acronyms, employ the initial letters of words, but instead of forming a comment, they create a new phrase using these initials. 

3. Improving Onboarding Through Information Processing Theory

Enhancing On-the-Job Learning and Retention

Active learning through on-the-job training can improve onboarding of new employees and promote knowledge retention through practical application in the workplace. This approach allows new hires to acquire job-relevant information through hands-on, situational, and practical training, leading to a more effective and engaging learning experience.

Measuring the Impact of Information Processing Theory

Assessing the effectiveness of the information processing theory is a straightforward process. Creating concrete Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help organizations determine efficient utilisation. These KPIs serve as valuable metrics to gauge the effectiveness of applying this technique within the organisation.

Key Performance Indicators for Evaluation:

  • Learning Retention Rate – The rate at which learners retain the information from training or modules. This KPI evaluates employees’ ability to encode, store, and retrieve information over time, with techniques like spaced repetition and chunking applied.
  • Knowledge Transfer – This KPI assesses the rate at which employees can communicate and share information, particularly during onboarding. 
  • Knowledge Application Rate – This KPI refers to the application of learnings on the job, where employees can demonstrate both theoretical and practical knowledge learned from the modules.
  • Learning Progression – This measures the rate at which an individual processes information from processing to encoding and retrieval. 
  • Training Completion Rate – This monitors the percentage of employees or learners who complete the modules. A higher success rate indicates the successful application of the information processing theory, with more individuals completing the modules as intended.

Information Processing in Action

Incorporating Information Processing Theory in knowledge transfer can be a powerful tool to utilise in the workplace, ​​optimising LX and boosting worker performance. By customising learning methods to suit the needs of the organisation and its learners, you can drive success in the ever-evolving workplace.

Other Learning Theories to Explore

The informational process theory is an important idea to understand, but other theories should also be considered. Explore some of the other learning models available on Cloud Assess:

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