Many students behave as if they are like tape recorders and can
somehow absorb knowledge simply by being able to hear or see it
and record it. However, the fact is that you are not a tape recorder.
Tape recorders cannot do anything to the recorded information except
to retain it and play it back; but you can ‘process’
the information as you desire. If you behave as a recorder, new
information will not be integrated with your prior knowledge and
understanding; the information remains isolated, cannot be used
effectively in new tasks and does not transfer readily to new situations.
Consequently, students are active processors of information who
are trying to make sense of the presented material. Hence, it is
essential for you to develop expertise in processing information
in different subject domains.
How should you process information? There are three processes
that you should be aware of. The first process involves focusing
attention in the short-term memory on relevant pieces of information
received and sifting out relevant from irrelevant information. This
involves selecting information from the sensory input (e.g. reading,
hearing) and adding that information to the short-term memory (Meyer,
1984; Sternberg, 1985). The second process involves organising,
or building connections among, the selected pieces of information
into a coherent whole within the short-term memory (Meyer, 1984;
Sternberg, 1985). The third process involves integrating, or building
external connections between, the organised new knowledge and organised
existing knowledge in the long-term memory (Meyer, 1984; Sternberg,
Knowledge widens and deepens as students continue to build links
between new information and experiences and their existing knowledge
base. The nature of these links can take a variety of forms, such
as adding to, modifying, or reorganising existing knowledge or skills
(Lambert & McCombs, 1995). How these links are made or develop
may vary in different subject areas, and among students with varying
talents, interests and abilities.
The word ‘knowledge’ actually means ‘to have
sport with ideas’. A knowledgeable person is someone who can
play with ideas, not just someone who can retain facts, recall information
or simply repeat a task. To play with ideas means holding information
in the short-term and long-term memory and processing them by comparing
and contrasting, attributing, classifying, sequencing, prioritising,
evaluating, determining cause and effect, analysing for bias and
drawing conclusions. Through these series of thinking activities,
new ideas can be created through inventing, inferring, generalising,
predicting, hypothesising and making analogies.
Therefore, if you wish to be a knowledgeable person, you should
not practise retaining information, but instead, process information.
When you put effort into processing information, you will become
capable of a metacognitive or executive level of thinking that includes
self-awareness, self-inquiry (self-dialogue), self-monitoring and
self-regulation of the processes and contents of thoughts, knowledge
structures and memories. In essence, you become a thinker capable
of solving problems, creating ideas and making decisions.
Lambert, N.M. & McCombs, B.L. (1995). ‘Introduction’.
In Lambert, N.M. & McMcombs, B.L. (Eds.). How Students Learn:
Reforming Schools Through Learner-centered Education. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association, 1–22.
Mayer, R.E. (1984). ‘Aids to Text Comprehension’.
Educational Psychologist, 19, 30–42.
Sternberg, R.J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human
Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.