In 1956, Miller first reported on a capacity limitation in the amount of information the human brain can process, which was thought to be seven plus or minus two items. The system of memory used to process information for immediate use was coined “working memory” by Miller, Galanter, and Pribram in 1960. In 1968, Atkinson and Shiffrin proposed their multistore model of memory, which theorized that the memory system was separated into short-term memory, long-term memory, and the sensory register, the latter of which temporarily holds and forwards information from sensory inputs to short term-memory for processing. Baddeley and Hitch built upon the concept of multiple stores, leading to the development of the multicomponent model of working memory in 1974, which described two stores devoted to the processing of visuospatial and auditory information, both coordinated by a central executive system. Later, Cowan’s theorizing focused on attentional factors in the effortful and effortless activation and maintenance of information in working memory. In 1988, Cowan published his model—the scope and control of attention model. In contrast, since the early 2000s Engle has investigated working memory capacity through the lens of his individual differences model, which does not seek to quantify capacity in the same way as Miller or Cowan. Instead, this model describes working memory capacity as the interplay between primary memory (working memory), the control of attention, and secondary memory (long-term memory). This affords the opportunity to focus on individual differences in working memory capacity and extend theorizing beyond storage to the manipulation of complex information. These models and advancements have made significant contributions to understandings of learning and cognition, informing educational research and practice in particular. Emerging areas of inquiry include investigating use of gestures to support working memory processing, leveraging working memory measures as a means to target instructional strategies for individual learners, and working memory training. Given that working memory is still debated, and not yet fully understood, researchers continue to investigate its nature, its role in learning and development, and its implications for educational curricula, pedagogy, and practice.
Stoo Sepp, Steven J. Howard, Sharon Tindall-Ford, Shirley Agostinho, and Fred Paas
Information processing is a cognitive learning theory that helps explain how individuals acquire, process, store, and retrieve information from memory. The cognitive architecture that facilitates the processing of information consists of three components: memory stores, cognitive processes, and metacognition. The memory stores are sensory memory, a virtually unlimited store that briefly holds stimuli from the environment in an unprocessed form until processing begins; working memory, the conscious component of our information processing system, limited in both capacity and duration, where knowledge is organized and constructed in a form that makes sense to the individual; and long-term memory, a vast and durable store that holds an individual’s lifetime of acquired information. Information is moved from sensory memory to working memory using the cognitive processes attention, selectively focusing on a single stimulus, and perception, the process of attaching meaning to stimuli. After information is organized in working memory so it makes sense to the individual, it is represented in long-term memory through the process of encoding, where it can later be retrieved and connected to new information from the environment. Metacognition is a regulatory mechanism that facilitates the use of strategies, such as chunking, automaticity, and distributed processing, that help accommodate the limitations of working memory, and schema activation, organization, elaboration, and imagery that promote the efficient encoding of information into long-term memory. Information processing theory has implications for our daily living ranging from tasks as simple as shopping at a supermarket to those as sophisticated as solving complex problems.
Danielle S. McNamara and Laura K. Allen
Writing is a crucial means of communicating with others and thus vital to success and survival in modern society. Writing processes rely on virtually all aspects of cognition (e.g., working memory, motivation, affect, self-regulation, prior knowledge, problem solving) and are naturally embedded in social contexts. Social factors include writers’ objectives, audience, genre, and mode of writing. For example, the increased use of the Internet has rendered writing for informal purposes more frequent, and writing mechanics (e.g., deleting, spell checking) and search for information more efficient. Research on educational interventions to improve writing points to the importance of providing students with instruction and practice using writing strategies, writing practice with feedback (e.g., instructor, automated), and collaborative writing (including peer feedback). Given the inherent complexity of writing, it is important to help students learn how to write across various situations with varying purposes and demands. This necessitates reading many types of text genres (e.g., narrative vs. informational writing), writing frequently, and revising based on feedback. Since the turn of the century, there has been a substantial increase in research on writing processes, including methods to improve writing. However, there remains a substantial need for additional experimental work to understand writing processes as well as more evidence on which types of interventions are most beneficial in helping students to improve their writing. Feedback from both cognitive and sociocultural researchers should inform future revisions of the standardized guidelines and assessments with the long-term goal of developing a clearly defined set of standards for academic excellence in writing.