Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Informing Lesson Design with Human Information Processing

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Informing Lesson Design with Human Information Processing

Article excerpt


Designing effective instruction is the goal of any instructional designer. This article discusses how lesson design can be enhanced by incorporating certain fundamentals of cognitive psychology. The stages of human information processing and a typical four-step lesson are integrated in a model that can inform instructional design.


Designing lessons for how learning experiences are mentally processed can improve instruction. It is worth considering the activities of a lesson, the flow of a lesson, and how the brain processes and retains information. This article discusses how lesson design can be enhanced by integrating cognitive theory. A typical four-part lesson will be discussed in conjunction with the stages of human information processing (HIP) in order to conceptualize a model (Figure 1) that can inform lesson design. By respecting how the mind processes and retains information a more effective and efficient lesson can be designed.

HIP in Brief

HIP is a theory of how the human mind acquires, stores, retrieves, and uses information. In Figure 1 the horizontal row of six boxes represent different stages of HIP. The Sensory Store box represents the major input and output stage for information. It essentially represents the five human senses. The senses afford multiple channels into the mind. In effect, the more channels one uses in the learning process, the greater the possibility that what is learned will be retained.

The Filter stage focuses on attention. It represents the point at which something attracts one's attention. Once attention is gained, the stimulus is analyzed through Pattern Recognition to determine if it is worthy of continuation. The key to holding attention is whether or not the mind recognizes a familiar pattern in the stimulus. Regarding information, the mind searches for familiar concepts, principles, or ideas. The Selection stage represents the second attention filter. If the mind has recognized something familiar and/or interesting, then one is likely to continue attending to the new stimulus.

The two filters serve as a doorway into Short-Term Memory (STM). STM is where the real learning begins. STM, however, has many limitations: it has limited capacity, it is easily disrupted, and it is vulnerable to loss. If STM is overloaded, the learning process slows down or stops. If too much information is introduced, the mind struggles to comprehend and make associations. Then, if attention is disrupted, information may be processed piecemeal and learning is incomplete or even inaccurate.

STM serves as a pathway to Long-Term Memory (LTM). It takes time and effort for information to be processed into LTM. Still, once in LTM, it may not be easily available. Here one has to contend with information decay if the memory is not reinforced by use.

Informing Lesson Design

Learner-friendly lessons can be designed once we appreciate more about how the mind learns. In Figure 1 the popular four-step lesson format is illustrated along the bottom of the diagram. The four separate horizontal bars span the different stages of the HIP model. The bars illustrate when a particular step is most influential in the learning process and the lengths indicate the duration of a step's influence. …

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