The Information Processing Model. Designed by AwesomeNikk - Own work. Licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Information Processing Model. Designed by AwesomeNikk - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who designs instructional materials will benefit from understanding basic principles of how the human mind learns. The Information Processing Model attempts to map out steps of learning while identifying whether said learning is taking place in a human's short-term, long-term memory, or in a place called our sensory register. 

The human mind has three variations of memory.

  1. The sensory memory can store images, sounds, and other environmental stimulation for anywhere between 0.5 to 2 seconds. 
  2. The short-term memory is where are current thoughts occur. This "working-memory" processes information and can focus on only a handful of thoughts at any given time. 
  3. The long-term memory has huge capacity. Our knowledge is stored in our long-term memory and can later be retrieved and used by our working memory.
 Oatmeal cookies. By slgckgc (originally posted to Flickr as In The Cookie Jar)  CC-BY-2.0  

Oatmeal cookies. By slgckgc (originally posted to Flickr as In The Cookie Jar) CC-BY-2.0 

So how does someone learn about something she has never considered before, and how does this model illustrate how learning occurs? Let's say you do not know how to bake oatmeal cookies, but you are attempting to learn how by reading a cook book recipe on oatmeal cookies. The Information Processing Model shows us that as you glance at the text of the recipe, your eyes read the words and this image is recorded for about 1/2 second in your sensory register. Your brain than attempts to make sense of the words using perception as this information enters your short-term memory where thought occurs. As you read through the recipe, your short-term memory is engaged as you concentrate on identifying key components and steps in your cookie baking. At this point, you are actively drawing from your long-term memory as you read items that have previous meaning like "butter," "salt," "pre-heat," etc. You follow the recipe, bake the cookies, enjoy them, and reflect on your experience. As you reflect, items you felt were notable are stored in your long-term memory for future oatmeal-cookie-baking sessions.

This example is not perfect, simplified, and doesn't fully give justice to this fascinating model of learning.  If you are interested in learning more about the Information Processing Model, I've found this Wikipedia article helpful on the subject and chapter 3 of Michael E. Martin's textbook, Learning and Cognition: The Design of the Mind.