According to the Information Processing Theory, How is Learning Viewed?

According to the Information Processing Theory, How is Learning Viewed?

The Information Processing Theory (IPT) has become a fundamental concept in cognitive psychology and education, providing a framework for understanding how human beings process, store, and recall information. This theory likens the human mind to a computer system, detailing how information moves through various stages of processing. In the context of learning, the Information Processing Theory offers a specific perspective, emphasizing how individuals perceive, analyze, manipulate, and categorize information. This article will explore how learning is viewed through the lens of the Information Processing Theory.

According to the Information Processing Theory, How is Learning Viewed?

According to the Information Processing Theory, learning is viewed as a systematic and sequential process that involves receiving, processing, storing, and retrieving information. It likens the human mind to a computer system, with stages including Sensory Memory where information is initially received, Working Memory where it is processed and manipulated, and Long-term Memory where it is stored for extended periods. The learning process further includes the steps of encoding, transforming sensory input into meaningful concepts; storage, retaining the information in memory; and retrieval, accessing the stored information when needed. These stages highlight the complex cognitive processes that underpin learning, providing insights into how individuals perceive, analyze, and utilize information.

Components of Information Processing Theory

Sensory Memory

The Information Processing Theory consists of several components that outline how information is processed within the mind. These components help in understanding how learning occurs according to this theory.

Sensory Memory is the very first stage of information processing where raw, unprocessed data from the external environment is captured through our five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.


Sensory Memory is highly transient, lasting only a fraction of a second to a few seconds. It’s like a snapshot of what you’re experiencing at any given moment, capable of holding vast amounts of information but only momentarily.


Its primary function is to provide a buffer for stimuli received through the senses to be transferred into Working Memory. Without Sensory Memory, we would be unable to process, understand, or make sense of our surroundings.


For instance, when you read a sentence, the visual information of the words and letters is held in sensory memory just long enough for you to process their meaning.

Working Memory

Working Memory, or short-term memory, is a more conscious stage of processing. It serves as an active workspace where information is held temporarily.


Working Memory has a limited capacity, generally holding around 7 items for about 20 seconds. It involves not only holding information but actively manipulating and processing it.


It’s essential for various cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Information in Working Memory can either be discarded or transferred to Long-term Memory.


In a classroom setting in South Africa, a learner might use Working Memory to hold onto a mathematical formula while solving a problem, actively manipulating the numbers to reach a solution.

Long-term Memory

Long-term Memory is the final stage where information is stored more permanently. It is the vast repository of everything we know and remember.


Long-term Memory has an almost limitless capacity and can store information for an indefinite length of time. It is further divided into declarative memory (facts and experiences) and procedural memory (skills and tasks).


Its primary function is to maintain information over the long term, allowing us to recall past experiences, knowledge, and skills when needed.


For example, a student in South Africa remembering the historical facts about Nelson Mandela’s life would access this information from Long-term Memory.

Learning Process According to Information Processing Theory


Encoding is the process of taking in information and converting it into a form that can be held in memory. In a learning context, this involves transforming sensory input into a meaningful concept or skill.


Storage involves maintaining information in memory. In the learning process, this can mean retaining newly learned material in working memory until it can be transferred to long-term memory.


Retrieval refers to accessing the stored information when needed. For learning, this means recalling previously stored knowledge, skills, or concepts to apply in new or different contexts.

Implications for Education

The Information Processing Theory has significant implications for education, especially in how teaching strategies are developed.

  1. Understanding Individual Differences: Recognizing that students have varying capacities for working memory can lead to personalized teaching strategies.
  2. Emphasizing Practice and Repetition: This can facilitate the transfer of information from working to long-term memory.
  3. Using Meaningful Connections: Linking new information to existing knowledge in long-term memory can make learning more effective.
  4. Incorporating Multi-sensory Teaching Techniques: These can enhance the encoding process, making learning more engaging.


According to the Information Processing Theory, learning is viewed as a systematic process where information passes through different stages from sensory input to long-term storage. This understanding of learning emphasizes the cognitive processes of encoding, storage, and retrieval, reflecting the complex nature of how humans learn. It provides valuable insights for educators, suggesting methods and strategies that align with the cognitive processing of learners. In the South African context, where diverse learning needs and environments must be considered, applying the principles of the Information Processing Theory can foster a more inclusive and effective education system.

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