Educational Psychology: Can you explain the Cognitive Theory? How can it be used ot improve learners’ memory?



3a iii). Explain the cognitive theory and how it can be used to improve learner’s memory

Cognitive Explanation

According to the cognitive theory. The key to memory is the way in which the material is coded and organized as it is stored in the long-term memory bank. Something important happens at every stage of information processing to either promote memory or forgetting.

At the short-term sensory storage, the key to memory at this level is attention. For information to be retained in memory, it should be focused on and rehearsed briefly so as to be registered for further processing. Any information that is not attended to is lost or forgotten.

The short-term memory/working memory

The most important process at this level is rehearsal. Rehearsal takes two forms depending on the reasons why we want to retain the information in memory.

Maintenance rehearsal

Sometimes we want to keep information in memory briefly and then discard it. For example we meet old friend in town and he gives us his cell phone number. Before we enter this number in our own cell phone or in our diary we shall rehearse it. Once the number is entered in the relevant place we stop rehearsing it. Another example to illustrate this type of rehearsal is a shopping list. We may want to go to the market to buy some items e.g. ripe bananas, cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, green maize and carrots. Before we make our shopping list we rehearse these items until we write all of them on paper. Again once they are on paper we stop rehearsing them. These two examples illustrate maintenance rehearsal. This is rehearsal of information, which is not intended to move to the long-term memory bank. It involves repetition of information over and over again. When the information is no longer needed it is forgotten.

Elaborative rehearsal

Elaborative rehearsal is used for all the information that we wish to transfer to the long-term memory bank. This rehearsal involves repetition of information and linking it with information already existing in the long-term memory. These two processes ensure that the information is cataloged and filed in the long-term memory.

The Long-term memory Bank

The following memories exist at this bank:

      • Declarative memory. This is the memory for things that can be expressed in words.
      • Semantic memory. This is the memory for general facts.
      • Episode memory. This is the memory for personal experiences.
      • Procedural memory for actions and skills.

At this memory, bank information is organized in categories. Items that are similar are stored close together in a method that is close to labeled. For each item in memory there is an imaginary index card which is appropriately cataloged.

Forgetting occurs if there are cataloging errors i.e. a card can be cataloged in the wrong place or a card can get lost.

What causes cataloging errors?

Cataloguing errors can occur if a learner takes in too much information within a short time. For example, if you attend a function and are introduced to about ten people within a short time you will find it difficult to match the right names and faces due to cognitive bottlenecks. But if you are introduced to one person every day for ten days you will not have a problem remembering each one of them because you have processed all the information properly.

If two things are similar one may be remembered in the place of the other.


In order to ensure that content learned is remembered, it is important to give it time to be processed at all memory levels until it enters the long-term memory bank because everything that gets there is permanent.



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