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Information Processing Theory in Cognitivism

The Information Processing theory is a cornerstone of cognitive psychology, offering a framework to understand how the human mind processes incoming information, stores it, and retrieves it for use. This analogy to computer processing, established by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968, breaks down the process into three primary components: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Let’s delve into each component to understand their roles in learning.


Encoding refers to the process by which information is transformed into a form that can be processed and stored in memory. Just as a computer converts data into binary code, the human brain converts incoming information into meaningful patterns. In the context of language learning, encoding involves the transformation of linguistic inputs (such as new vocabulary or grammar rules) into representations that can be stored in memory. This process is influenced by attention and perception, determining which information is noticed and how it is initially interpreted.


Storage pertains to how encoded information is maintained in the memory over time. Atkinson and Shiffrin described memory as consisting of multiple components, including sensory memory, short-term memory (or working memory), and long-term memory. Sensory memory holds information for a very brief period, allowing it to be perceived. Short-term memory retains information temporarily for active processing, with a limited capacity of about 7±2 items. Long-term memory, however, has a much larger capacity and can store information indefinitely. Effective learning strategies aim to transfer knowledge from short-term to long-term memory, ensuring it can be retrieved when needed.


Retrieval is the process of accessing and bringing into conscious thought the information stored in long-term memory. It can be influenced by various factors, such as the context, cues, and the way information was encoded and stored. In language learning, retrieval practice might involve using the target language in conversation, completing exercises, or taking tests, which helps to strengthen memory and make retrieval more accessible in the future.

Application in Language Learning

Understanding these processes offers valuable insights into effective language teaching and learning strategies. For example:

  • Encoding Strategies: Techniques like mnemonics, imagery, and making connections to existing knowledge can improve the encoding of new language information.
  • Enhancing Storage: Repetition, spaced learning, and elaborative rehearsal are strategies that help transfer information into long-term memory, making it more durable.
  • Facilitating Retrieval: Practice in varied contexts, using recall exercises, and teaching students to use cues can enhance the ability to retrieve language information when needed.

This model highlights the importance of engaging with language learning material in ways that effectively encode, store, and retrieve information, underscoring the cognitive processes that support language acquisition.