In a recent blog post titled “The Human Information Processing System: How People Learn (or Don’t),” we went over five key steps in which people learn and later apply information. In this post, we’ll look at the transition from Step 1, “We experience information through our senses and sensory memory,” to Step 2, “Some of that information is processed by our working memory.”
As we learned earlier, in Step 1 sensory information (sights, sounds, etc.) is perceived by our sense organs (eyes, ears, etc.) and is briefly processed by our sensory memory. The information stays in our sensory information for a very short time—in many cases, only a fraction of a second, though in some cases, it may last for a few seconds.
Some of that information goes on to be processed by our working memory; this is when we become aware of the information. The rest of that information is essentially lost. This is why people sometimes say that the working memory is a “bottleneck” within the learning process. And it’s why if you’re trying to help employees learn, you want to try to draw their attention to the right stuff to get past that bottleneck.
As a learning professional, if you want people to learn from your training materials and later apply that learning on their job, this is your first hurdle: getting sensory information through the sensory memory and into the working memory.
But it’s more than just that. You want specific sensory information to get into the working memory: the content you’re covering in training. And, you want outside distractions and distractions created by chaotic training materials to NOT enter the working memory.
The information that passes from our sensory memory to our working memory doesn’t get there by chance. Instead, our brain plays an active (if often subconscious) role in selecting the information that it will pay closer attention to. In many cases, the information that gets to our working memory gets there because it’s the kind of stimuli that our brains are “hardwired” to pay attention to.
As a learning professional, understanding the kind of things that our brains are “hardwired” to pay attention to can be very helpful to you. It gives you a chance to remove distractions from the training environment and from your own training materials (or presentations). And it gives you a chance to intentionally create training materials that draw the attention of your learners.
There’s a lot to be said about how the brain selects some stimuli for the working memory and ignores the other stimuli. Research is ongoing and we learn things every day. A lot of the information can be pretty complex. But here are some good basic guidelines to follow:
There are many other ways to try to draw people’s attention—too many to list here. But the ones above will get you started, and you can add more tricks to your training repertoire over time.
Keep your eyes here on the Convergence Training blog for more similar articles and please feel free to download the guide to writing learning objectives below.
All the basics about writing learning objectives for training materials.