Driscoll, Chapter 3, Chapter 9
Gredler, Chapter 7
Reading: Coker, Donald R. and White, Jane. (1993) Selecting and
applying learning theory to classroom teaching strategies. Education,
Fall93, Vol. 114 Issue 1. (Available online through Academic Search
Fulltext Elite. This brief article encourages teachers to adopt cognitivist,
rather than behaviorist instructional strategies. Note that the authors'
use of the term cognitivist is somewhat broader than the way we define
it in this unit.)
Unlike the other theories
we have examined so far in this course, cognitive information processing
(CIP) is not associated with the work of a single theorist; rather, it
builds on the work of a number of researchers who share a common paradigm.
Like the behaviorists, CIP theorists are concerned about observable behaviors;
but, unlike behaviorists, they use those behaviors to make inferences
about underlying mental processes that cannot be directly observed. (Note
that in the diagram on page 77 of the text, there is a box labeled "Responses".
That box represents the observable behaviors that CIP theorists use to
make inferences about mental processes.)
CIP, at least in
the way we will look at it in this course, is concerned with basic mental
operations, mainly how we perceive and remember events and information.
We will cover higher-level skills such as problem-solving and critical
thinking in later units.
components of memory are proposed: the sensory register, short-term
or working memory, and long-term memory.
The sensory register
In order for something
to get into long-term memory, it must first "register" with us. The
meaning we assign to sensory impressions depends on both our background
knowledge and the context in which we experience something. As we've
all experienced, our attention can be very selective. We can be reading
a newspaper with the television on in the background. All of a sudden
we realize that the news story is updating the story we read in the
paper. We stop to listen. We were sensitized to the information because
we had just read it, so we attend to it.
The role of context
is obvious in language perception. For example, the word "tape" can
have several meanings. But if I say, "I have to wrap a birthday present--do
you know where the tape is?", most people would have no trouble perceiving
that I'm looking for the roll of sticky stuff, not a video- or audiocassette.
Also, you've probably had the experience of encountering someone who
you recognize from one realm of your life (e.g., they work in your building)
in another realm (e.g., at your daughter's soccer game). You may realize
you know that person, but not be able to figure out why you know them.
This is a context issue.
One of the problems
that CIP researchers have wrestled with is, how do we recognize things?
You should be familiar with the different theories of pattern recognition
discussed in the text.
After a sensory
impression has registered, it then passes into short-term memory, or
working memory. The capacity of short-term memory appears to be rather
limited. We can hold only about 7 "chunks" of information in short-term
memory at a time. Of course, the size of a chunk is relative, not absolute.
We might have trouble managing 7 single words in a language that was
not known to us, but might easily be able to manage 7 sentences in our
own language. The difference is that the unknown words are meaningless
to us, whereas the sentences in our own language are meaningful, and
therefore don't require as much working capacity.
What happens to
information while it is in working memory determines whether--and how--it
will get stored in long-term memory. We can hold things in working memory
for a while by "rehearsing" them. An example of this is when we repeat
a phone number or person's name to ourselves just long enough to dial
a number or make an introduction. After we've used the information,
it will probably be lost to us.
To get information
stored in long-term memory requires that it be "encoded" in some way.
Encoding can be accomplished in several ways. "Mnemonics" are memory
tricks we can use to remember lists of names, numbers, etc. Many CIP
researchers have been fascinated with what mnemonics can tell us about
how memory works; however, these strategies are not in great demand
in instructional settings today, since we usually don't consider memorization
to be a very important learning outcome. In the longer term, the kinds
of encoding strategies that work best are those that emphasize meaningfulness.
One way to do this, with text for example, is to make the organizational
structure of the material apparent. That's why we use outlines, headings,
and other kinds of textual "cues" to indicate major and minor ideas,
show relationships among concepts, etc.
Some important concepts
in long-term memory:
procedural knowledge. Knowing "that" Bill Clinton was elected President
of the U.S. is quite different from knowing "how" to conduct a successful
presidential campaign. Similarly, memorizing the seven steps in the
negotiating process is very different from being able to use those steps
to negotiate successfully.
can be broken down in to episodic and semantic memory,
or memory for events versus memory for verbal information. We have an
episodic memory for the automobile accident we were in 13 years ago,
but we have only a semantic memory of the "fact" that Columbus landed
in the New World in 1492 (unless we were there). Although, of course,
we sometimes have an episodic memory of sitting in classes where we
learned certain facts.
Verbal and imaginal
representation in memory. Words that have concrete referents (and
therefore can easily be "pictured") are more likely to be remembered
than abstract words. So, if I read a list of 30 words and ask you immediately
afterwards to write down as many as you can remember, you will probably
be more successful with words such as "skyscraper", "baboon", and "rake",
than with words such as "strategy", "reference", and "nominal".
The difference between a "recall" task and a "recognition" task is an
important one in education. As a student, I always liked multiple choice
tests. Why? Because they usually require only recognition of some term
or definition, which is much easier cognitively than an essay-type exam,
which typically involves free "recall" tasks. However, life rarely presents
us with multiple-choice options, so if we want school tasks to resemble
life tasks... Well, you get the point.
The best retrieval cues are the same as the cues used for encoding.
For example, remember the diagram of the theory-building process on
page 7 of your text? Suppose I told you to memorize that for an exam.
According to the concept of encoding specificity, it would probably
be easier for you to reproduce the steps in that chart if I gave you
a blank version exactly like the original chart than if I simply told
you to list the seven steps. That's because the form of the chart (circular,
with arrows) serves as a retrieval cue for the information.
Some theorists contend that we never truly "lose" anything once it is
stored in long-term memory (unless the brain is damaged in some way).
If that is so, then when we forget something, it must either be the
case that it was never actually encoded in the first place, or that
the information is still there, but we can no longer retrieve it. So
the phone number that we repeated just long enough to dial is forgotten
because it never really got into long-term memory. The phone number
that my family had when I was a child is probably still stored in my
brain, but I can no longer retrieve it. Likely, this number has suffered
from retroactive interference, because of all the phone numbers I have
had to learn and remember since then. It could also be that we've lost
the location of the information--sort of like losing a card out of the
old card catalog library organizing system. The book is still on the
library shelf, you just won't be able to find it anymore.
Some implications of CIP
from Driscoll and Cognitive Psychology and Instruction, 3rd edition,
1999, by Bruning, Schraw, and Ronning.)
Provide organized instruction. Make the structure and relations
of the material evident to learners, such as through concept maps or
other graphic representations.
Link new material with what is currently known. This provides
a sort of mental "scaffolding" for the new material.
Recognize the limits of attention (sensory register). Help learners
focus their attention through techniques such as identifying the most
important points to be learned in advance of studying new material.
Recognize the limitations of short-term memory. Use the concept
of chunking: don't present 49 separate items, make them 7 groups of
7. Use elaboration and multiple contexts.
Match encoding strategies with the material to be learned. For
example, don't encourage the use of mnemonic techniques unless it's
really essential to memorize the material. If you want it to be processed
more "deeply", then find encoding strategies that are more inherently
Provide opportunities for both verbal and imaginal encoding.
Even though it's not clear whether these are really two different systems,
it does appear that imaging can help us remember.
Arrange for a variety of practice opportunities. The goal is
to help the learner generalize the concept, principle, or skill to be
learned so that it can be applied outside of the original context in
which it was taught.
Help learners become "self-regulated." Assist them in selecting
and using appropriate learning strategies such as summarizing and questioning.