Leveraging influential educational theories can be a game-changer in corporate training. One such theory is Information Processing Theory, a cognitive approach that explains how the human brain processes, stores, and retrieves information. Understanding and applying this theory in a corporate setting can significantly enhance the effectiveness of training programs. This guide will delve into the practical application of Information Processing Theory in corporate training, providing a step-by-step framework for trainers and HR professionals.

What is Information Processing Theory?

Let’s start with what Information Processing Theory is by definition. 
Information Processing Theory is a cognitive theory that suggests the human mind processes information in a way that is analogous to how computers operate. This theory, rooted in psychology and cognitive science, provides a framework for understanding how people perceive, process, store, and retrieve information. The key elements of Information Processing Theory include:

Input: The theory begins with receiving data through sensory input. This is analogous to how a computer gets data through various input devices.

Processing: Once information is received, the human brain processes it. This involves various cognitive processes, such as perception, attention, and interpretation. This would be akin to the CPU processing the input data in a computer.

Storage: Information processing theory also addresses how information is stored in the human mind. There are generally three types of memory storage:

  • Sensory Memory: This is a very short-term form of memory that holds sensory information. It acts as a buffer for stimuli received through the senses.
  • Short-term Memory (or Working Memory): This is where small amounts of information can be temporarily held and manipulated. This memory is limited in both capacity and duration.
  • Long-term Memory: This is for more permanent storage of information. It has a vast capacity and can potentially store data indefinitely for extended periods.
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Output: Finally, the theory considers the retrieval or production of information, which involves recalling stored information and using it in decision-making, problem-solving, or executing tasks. This is similar to how a computer outputs processed data.

Feedback Mechanisms: The theory also includes the concept of feedback mechanisms, where the outcomes of information processing can influence future cognitive processes, akin to how computer algorithms might be adjusted based on the output.

Information Processing Theory has influenced various fields, particularly education and psychology. It helps understand learning processes and memory function and is used to design effective teaching methods and learning environments. The theory highlights the importance of structuring information that aligns with how the brain processes and stores data, enhancing learning and retention.

Smiling african student pointing with pencil at laptop screen. Concentrated blonde girl in glasses propping chin with hand while working with computer in office..
Smiling african student pointing with pencil at laptop screen. Concentrated blonde girl in glasses propping chin with hand while working with computer in office.

What is the Information Processing Theory Model?

Information Processing Theory encompasses several models that explain how humans perceive, process, store, and retrieve information. These models are essential for understanding cognitive processes and have influenced psychology, education, and computer science. The most prominent models include:

Atkinson-Shiffrin Model (1968):

  • Also known as the Multi-Store Model.
  • Proposes that memory involves three separate systems: Sensory Memory, Short-Term Memory (STM), and Long-Term Memory (LTM).
  • Sensory Memory: Acts as a buffer for stimuli received through the senses. It is very brief, and information is either noticed or ignored.
  • Short-Term Memory: Where small amounts of information are actively held for a short period. It’s characterized by limited capacity and duration.
  • Long-Term Memory: For more permanent information storage with unlimited capacity and duration.

Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model (1974):

  • The advancement of the Atkinson-Shiffrin model focuses on the more active aspects of short-term memory.
  • Introduces the concept of Working Memory, consisting of multiple components:
    • Central Executive: Directs attention and coordinates activities of other components.
    • Phonological Loop: Deals with auditory information, both spoken and heard.
    • Visuospatial Sketchpad: Handles visual and spatial data.
    • Episodic Buffer: Integrates information across these domains with a sense of time, thus forming the basis of conscious experience.

Craik and Lockhart’s Levels of Processing Model (1972):

  • Suggests that the depth of processing influences memory recall.
  • It does not emphasize different storage systems (like STM and LTM) but, instead, the processes involved in encoding information.
  • Deep, meaningful information processing produces more durable and accessible memories than shallow, less significant processing.

Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) Models:

  • Also known as connectionist models or neural network models.
  • Propose that information is processed by a network of interconnected nodes (similar to neural networks in the brain).
  • Processing occurs in parallel across the network rather than linearly or sequentially.

The Information Processing Model in Computers:

  • Often used as a metaphor for human cognition, comparing the mind to a computer.
  • Emphasizes processes like encoding, storing, and retrieving information and draws parallels between the human mind and computer functions.

These models, while distinct, share the fundamental principle that information processing involves a series of steps or stages and that the way information is encoded, stored, and retrieved can significantly impact learning and memory.

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Indoor shot of happy student male with curly hair dressed casually sitting in cafeteria working with modern technologies while studying looking with smile in notebook receiving message from friend

Limitations of Information Processing Theory

Information Processing Theory has immensely influenced the understanding of cognitive processes, particularly in psychology and education. However, like all theories, it has its limitations. 

These limitations are significant, especially when applying the theory in practical settings such as education, training, or therapy. Some of the notable limitations include:

Over-Simplification of Cognitive Processes

The theory often compares the human brain to a computer, which can oversimplify the complexity and richness of human thought processes. Human cognition is influenced by emotions, motivations, and other psychological factors not easily captured by this analogy.

Linear and Sequential Processing

Many information processing models suggest a linear and sequential approach to cognition (e.g., the Atkinson-Shiffrin model). However, cognitive processing is often non-linear and involves multiple processes occurring simultaneously or in an interconnected manner.

Underestimation of Long-Term Memory Complexity

Early models, in particular, needed to fully account for the complexities and nuances of long-term memory, such as the differences between procedural and declarative memory or the impact of emotions and experiences on memory formation and retrieval.

Lack of Emphasis on Prior Knowledge and Schemas

Information Processing Theory initially should have emphasized the role of existing knowledge structures or schemas in the processing of new information. Later models and research have highlighted the importance of these factors in learning and memory.

Neglect of Social and Cultural Factors

The theory primarily focuses on individual cognitive processes and often neglects the influence of social interaction and cultural context on learning and information processing.

Difficulty in Measuring Cognitive Processes

The internal cognitive processes described by the theory are not directly observable and often have to be inferred from behavior or performance. This can make empirical validation and measurement challenging.

Generalizability Issues

Some models may not apply equally across all age groups, cultures, or individuals with atypical cognitive processing (such as those with cognitive impairments or exceptionalities).

Insufficient Explanation of Creativity and Innovation

The theory often focuses on how information is processed, stored, and retrieved somewhat mechanically, which may not adequately account for creative thinking, innovation, and other higher-order cognitive processes.

Despite these limitations, Information Processing Theory remains a valuable tool in understanding human cognition. It has laid the groundwork for much of the research in cognitive psychology and continues to evolve, integrating new findings and perspectives. In practical applications, it’s crucial to consider these limitations and combine the theory with other approaches and insights for a more holistic understanding of human cognition and learning.

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Information Processing Theory: A Step-by-Step Guide

The essence of Information Processing Theory is a systematic approach to cognitive development, presenting the mind as a multi-layered information processor and delving into the mechanics of how we receive data (input), process and understand that data (processing), store it for future use (storage), and retrieve it when necessary (output). 

Here is the step-by-step guide to clearly understand each element of the theory.

Step 1: Understand the Basics of Information Processing Theory

Information Processing Theory postulates that the human mind processes information like a computer. It involves three critical stages: encoding (where information is received and processed), storage (where data is retained), and retrieval (where information is recalled when needed). Key elements include attention, perception, and memory, all of which play vital roles in learning.

Application in Training:

  • Design Content for Optimal Encoding: Training material should be engaging and relevant to ensure effective encoding. Use multimedia, real-life scenarios, and interactive elements to grab and sustain attention.
  • Facilitate Effective Storage: Organize content logically and include repetition and summarization to aid memory storage.
  • Enhance Retrieval: Use quizzes and real-world tasks to encourage active information retrieval.

Step 2: Cater to Different Cognitive Processes

Each processes information differently. Information Processing Theory divides cognitive processes into two types: controlled processes, which are conscious and deliberate, and automatic processes, which are unconscious and effortless.

Application in Training:

  • Address Different Learning Styles: Incorporate various teaching methods like visual aids, auditory presentations, and hands-on activities to cater to different learners.
  • Build on Existing Knowledge: Link new information to existing knowledge to facilitate easier processing and integration.
  • Progress from Simple to Complex: Start with basic concepts and introduce more complex ideas to avoid cognitive overload.

Step 3: Enhance Working Memory

Working memory, a core concept of Information Processing Theory, is where new information is temporarily held and manipulated. Its capacity is limited, so it’s crucial to design manageable training.

Application in Training:

  • Chunk Information: Break down complex information into smaller, manageable units.
  • Use Mnemonics and Analogies: These tools help simplify and relate new concepts to known ideas, easing the load on working memory.
  • Encourage Active Participation: Interactive sessions engage the working memory and facilitate deeper learning.
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Step 4: Strengthen Long-Term Memory

Information is stored indefinitely in long-term memory. Practical training aims to transfer knowledge from working memory to long-term memory.

Application in Training:

  • Reinforcement and Repetition: Regular review and practice help in solidifying knowledge.
  • Real-Life Application: Encourage trainees to apply concepts in practical scenarios.
  • Spaced Learning: Space out learning sessions to prevent fatigue and enhance memory consolidation.

Step 5: Implement Effective Retrieval Practices

According to Information Processing Theory, the final step in the learning process is retrieval, where the trainee accesses stored information.

Application in Training:

  • Regular Assessments: Use tests and quizzes to practice retrieval.
  • Case Studies and Role-Playing: These methods mimic real-life situations and stimulate information retrieval.
  • Feedback and Reflection: Offer constructive feedback and encourage self-reflection to enhance understanding and retention.


Incorporating Information Processing Theory into corporate training can significantly boost its effectiveness. By understanding how information is processed, stored, and retrieved, trainers can design more engaging programs conducive to long-term learning and application. 

This step-by-step guide provides a foundation for creating training programs aligned with the human mind’s cognitive workings, leading to more successful and impactful learning experiences in the corporate world.If you are interested in an LMS for corporations, take advantage of our free demo!