In this unit we will cover cognitive information processing (CIP) and issues of motivation. Cognitive information processing lies in contrast to Behaviorism as the focus now turns to internal processes and states of the mind. The metaphor most often associated with this group of theories is “mind as computer.” Theories that deal with motivation do not necessarily claim to address learning directly. Instead focus is often antecedents that are identified as indicators that learning has occurred.
Introduction to cognitive information processing (CIP)
Unlike the other theories we will examine in this course, cognitive information processing (CIP) is not associated with the work of a single theorist. Rather, it builds on the work of a number of researchers who share a common paradigm. As with scientists informed by the behaviorist view, CIP theorists are concerned with observable behaviors. However, unlike behaviorists, they use those behaviors to make inferences about underlying mental processes that cannot be directly observed. This can be considered a radical shift in the study of human learning.
Cognitive information processing, at least in the way we will examine it in this course, is concerned with basic mental operations, mainly how we sense, perceive, process, store and retrieve events and information. We will cover higher-level skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking in later units. Three fundamental components of memory are proposed: by CIP theorists: the sensory register, short-term or working memory, and long-term memory.
The sensory register
In order for information to be entered into long-term memory, it must first "register" with us. The meaning we assign to sensory impressions depends on both our background knowledge and the context in which we experience something. As we've all experienced, our attention can be very selective. We can be reading a newspaper with the television on in the background. All of a sudden we realize that the news story is updating the story we read in the paper. We stop to listen. We were sensitized to the information because we had just read it, so we attend to it.
The role of context is obvious in language perception. For example, the word "tape" can have several meanings. But if I say, "I have to wrap a birthday present--do you know where the tape is?" most listeners would have no trouble perceiving that I'm looking for the roll of sticky stuff, not a video- or audiocassette. Also, you've probably had the experience of encountering someone whom you would certainly recognize in one realm of your life (e.g., they work in the same office or building) but have difficulty recognizing in another realm (e.g., at your daughter's soccer game). You may realize you know that person, but cannot figure out why you know them or who they are. This is an issue of context.
One of the problems that CIP researchers have wrestled with is this: How do we recognize persons, places, and things ? To understand how CIP researchers attempt to answer this question, you should become intimately familiar with the different theories of pattern recognition discussed in the text and readings.
After a sensory impression has registered, it then passes into short-term memory, or working memory . The capacity of short-term memory appears to be rather limited. We can hold only about 7 "chunks" of information in short-term memory at a time. Of course, the size of a chunk is relative, not absolute. We might have trouble managing 7 single words in a language that was not known to us, but might easily be able to manage 7 sentences in our own language. The difference is that the unknown words are meaningless to us, whereas the sentences in our own language are meaningful, and therefore don't require as much working capacity.
What happens to information while it is in working memory determines whether--and how--it will get stored in long-term memory. We can hold things in working memory for a while by "rehearsing" them. An example of this is when we repeat a phone number or person's name to ourselves just long enough to dial a number or make an introduction. After we've used the information, it will probably be lost to us.
To get information stored in long-term memory requires that it be "encoded" in some way. Encoding can be accomplished in several ways. "Mnemonics" are memory tricks we can use to remember lists of names, numbers, etc. Many CIP researchers have been fascinated with what mnemonics can tell us about how memory works. However, these strategies are not in great demand in instructional settings today, since we usually don't consider memorization to be a very important learning outcome, at least in the United States . In the longer term, the kinds of encoding strategies that work best are those that emphasize meaningfulness . One way to do this, with text for example, is to make the organizational structure of the material apparent. That's why we use outlines, headings, and other kinds of textual "cues" to indicate major and minor ideas, show relationships among concepts, etc. In a subsequent unit, we will discuss more these “advance organizers”.
There are basic concepts regarding long-term memory that you should make sure enters your long-term memory.
- Declarative vs. procedural knowledge . Knowing "that" George W. Bush was elected President of the United States in 2000 is quite different from knowing "how" to conduct a successful presidential campaign. Similarly, memorizing the seven steps in the negotiating process is very different from being able to use those steps to negotiate successfully. Declarative knowledge can be broken down into episodic and semantic memory, or memory for events versus memory for verbal information. We have an episodic memory for the automobile accident we were in 13 years ago, but we have only a semantic memory of the "fact" that Columbus landed in the New World in 1492. Although, of course, we sometimes have an episodic memory of sitting in classes where we learned certain facts.
- Verbal and imaginal representation in memory . Words that have concrete referents (and therefore can easily be "pictured") are more likely to be remembered than abstract words. So, if I read a list of 30 words and ask you immediately afterwards to write down as many as you can remember, you will probably be more successful with words such as "skyscraper", "baboon", and "rake", than with words such as "strategy", "reference", and "nominal".
- Retrieval. The difference between a "recall" task and a "recognition" task is an important one in education. As a student, you may have liked multiple-choice tests. Why? Because they usually require only recognition of some term or definition, which is much easier cognitively than an essay-type exam, which typically involves free "recall" tasks.
- Encoding specificity. The best retrieval cues are the same as the cues used for encoding. For example, remember the diagram of the theory-building process on page 7 of your text? Suppose I told you to memorize that for an exam. According to the concept of encoding specificity, it would probably be easier for you to reproduce the steps in that chart if I gave you a blank version exactly like the original chart than if I simply told you to list the seven steps. That's because the form of the chart (circular, with arrows) serves as a retrieval cue for the information.
Implications of CIP for instructional design
- Forgetting. Some theorists contend that we never truly "lose" anything once it is stored in long-term memory (unless the brain is physically damaged). If that is so, then when we forget something, it must either be the case that it was never actually encoded in the first place, or that the information is still there, but can no longer be retrieved. So the phone number that we repeated just long enough to dial is forgotten because it never really got into long-term memory. The phone number that my family had when I was a child is probably still stored in my brain, but I can no longer retrieve it. Likely, this number has suffered from retroactive interference, because of all the phone numbers I have had to learn and remember since then. It could also be that we've lost the location of the information--sort of like losing a card out of the old card catalog library organizing system. The book is still on the library shelf, you just won't be able to find it anymore.
The following, adapted from your text and other sources, list potential implications of CIP for instructional design:
- Provide organized instruction : Make the structure and relations of the material evident to learners, such as through concept maps or other graphic representations.
- Link new material with what is currently known : This provides a sort of mental "scaffolding" for the new material.
- Recognize the limits of attention (sensory register) : Help learners focus their attention through techniques such as identifying the most important points to be learned in advance of studying new material.
- Recognize the limitations of short-term memory : Use the concept of chunking: don't present 49 separate items; make them 7 groups of 7. Use elaboration and multiple contexts.
- Match encoding strategies with the material to be learned : For example, don't encourage the use of mnemonic techniques unless it's really essential to memorize the material. If you want it to be processed more "deeply", then find encoding strategies that are more inherently meaningful.
- Provide opportunities for both verbal and imaginal encoding: Even though it's not clear whether these are really two different systems, it does appear that imaging can help us remember.
- Arrange for a variety of practice opportunities : The goal is to help the learner generalize the concept, principle, or skill to be learned so that it can be applied outside of the original context in which it was taught.
- Help learners become "self-regulated" : Assist them in selecting and using appropriate learning strategies such as summarizing and questioning.
Now that we have covered Behaviorism and CIP, it is appropriate to take a slight detour to examine motivation and associated concepts and principles. I say, “A slight detour,” because motivation does not necessarily focus on how learning occurs. In contrast, motivation examines the antecedents that predict whether learning will occur. Nevertheless, to study motivation at this point in the course is appropriate because theories in this area of research and application draw heavily from Behaviorism and CIP.
Motivation and learning
Motivation is a core construct in human behavior. Apparently, everything we do, from getting out of bed in the morning to writing a symphony, is motivated by something. We may be motivated by hunger, fear, or the desire for self-fulfillment. As educators we would love to have students who are intrinsically motivated, that is, who provide their own motivation for learning. We wish that students were driven by curiosity and the natural desire to know and understand the world around them. However, we know that this often is not the case.
Until they reach a certain age, all children in the United States must attend school, whether they want to or not. Although a rising first grader may be quite motivated by the novelty of attending her first year, this wears off quickly thus leading to cases of “illness” accompanied by no observable symptoms. Let's be honest, even college students may occasional be lacking in motivation. They may be in college only because of family expectations, or they may be in a particular course because it is required rather than because it interests them. Whatever the reason, enhancing student motivation has long been understood as an important part of the teaching-learning process. This unit deals with systematic, research-based efforts to understand the roots of motivation and to identify what teachers and students can do to enhance it.
Bandura's self-efficacy theory
Bandura's theory holds that the ability to learn new skills and information is influenced by feelings of “self-efficacy.” Self-efficacy is composed of at least two components:
- Beliefs about whether one is capable of performing (or learning) some task; and
- Beliefs about whether such performance will lead to desirable outcomes.
For example, I might believe myself to be capable of learning the basics of automobile maintenance, but I might have no expectation of ever using such knowledge to maintain my own vehicle. Conversely, I might doubt my ability to learn automobile maintenance, even though I wanted very much to be able to change my own oil, etc. In either case, my motivation to perform well in an auto maintenance class would likely be compromised.
The theory further suggests that the two most powerful sources of self-efficacy come from the learner's own previous experiences with similar tasks, and from observing others' experiences. In addition, verbal persuasion and physiological states can contribute to self-efficacy judgments.
Note that self-efficacy is unlike general qualities such as self-esteem because self-efficacy can differ greatly from one task or domain to another. I may have very high self-efficacy about learning to play the piano and very low self-efficacy concerning learning calculus. It is also important to note that self-efficacy judgments are not necessarily related to an individual's actual ability to perform a task; rather, they are based on the person's beliefs about that ability.
Weiner's attribution theory
Attribution theory offers another window into motivation. According to the theory our beliefs about the causes of our successes and failures influence our future motivation. We tend to attribute success and failure to factors that vary along three dimensions: internal-external, stable-unstable, and controllable-uncontrollable.
Internal factors are those within the individual, while external factors come from others or the environment. So, if I did very well on a physics test, I might attribute my performance internally to the fact that I studied for eleven hours, or externally to the thought that it was a very easy test.
Using the same example, I might attribute my good performance to a stable factor, such as my high aptitude for science, or to an unstable factor I just got lucky.
Similarly, I might attribute it to a controllable factor the amount of effort I expended, or to an uncontrollable factor the teacher made a mistake in grading my test.
As you might expect, these attributions can have considerable influence on the motivation to perform. When one attributes performance largely to internal factors and controllable factors, motivation tends to be higher. When one attributes performance largely to external, uncontrollable factors, motivation tends to be lower, since it appears that the outcomes are beyond the individual's control. The results for the stable-unstable dimension are less clear. For example, if I believe that my ability to learn in some domain is generally high, then stability is a positive factor. However, if I believe my ability is low, then stability is a negative.
Keller's ARCS model
Keller's ARCS model attempts to identify the necessary components of motivation in instructional settings. These are said to be Attention
, and Satisfaction
is perhaps the easiest of the requirements to satisfy at least for most learners. Suggestions include framing new information in such a way that it arouses curiosity, proposes a mystery to be resolved, or presents a challenging problem to be solved. In addition, varying the presentation style helps to maintain attention.
includes relating new material to the learners own needs and interests, or showing them how they will be able to use the new skills. Relevance may also entail relating new learning to things that are already familiar to learners. In this way it parallels findings from cognitive research that show that new information is most comprehensible when it can be related to what the learner already knows.
, according to Keller, can be accomplished by strategies such as clarifying instructional goals or letting learners set their own goals, helping students succeed at challenging tasks, and providing them with some control over their own learning. However, other researchers such as Bandura and Weiner have shown that confidence is a complex construct that may need to be further analyzed in order to be supported.
can best be accomplished by giving learners a chance to use new skills in meaningful activity. For example, workers who are trained to use a new software package will likely feel satisfaction if they are immediately given an opportunity to apply their new skills to a real work project. In the absence of such natural positive consequences Keller suggests rewards such as verbal praise. Also, he notes the importance of establishing a sense of fairness by maintaining consistent standards and matching outcomes to expectations.
Keller urges instructors to analyze the audience or student population to determine the level of intrinsic motivation to learn the new information or skills. Obviously, elaborate planning for extrinsic motivation is not needed when intrinsic motivation is high.
To conclude, this unit has examined theories of cognitive information processing and motivation. As we saw, the focus of explaining antecedents and processes of learning has been on “things inside the head.” In the next unit, we will continue to focus on not only mental processes, but structures as well.