The Information Processing System

Whenever we are exposed to new information we have two options: disregard the information or keep it. If the brain decides to keep it, the information will be encoded and placed into the short-term memory (STM). After it arrives to the STM it must be transformed and manipulated if we want to keep it in the long-term memory (LTM).

Once in the LTM, we should be able to retrieve it when necessary. This is, in a nutshell, what educational psychologists call “the information processing system”. The following graphic (from the book Learning and Motivation Strategies: Your Guide to Success by Tuckman, Abry and Smith) is a representation of the IPS:


If this process of storage and retrieval feels so simple, why do college students have such a hard time remembering things during exams? What does learning really mean? How and when do you know that you have actually learned something?

There are no simple answers to those questions since multiple factors affect learning. But lets just say that inadequate study strategies, in most cases, could be one of the main reasons behind your difficulties recalling information during exams. In my experience students spend a lot of time in activities that reinforce storage but not quick retrieval. In the Active Learning section of this blog we discuss effective learning strategies that help with both storage and retrieval. In this article we just wanted to briefly explain how the brain processes information.

However, since one of our goals is to help you think with a critical mind, you could start by answering the following questions:

1. How could I manipulate and transform the information I’m receiving in order to make it permanent knowledge?

2. What current strategies I’m using to help me retrieve information and how often do I practice them?

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