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2014 Information Processing in Advising: Understanding the Limits

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Joshua Brittingham

on 6 September 2016

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Transcript of 2014 Information Processing in Advising: Understanding the Limits

Information Processing in Advising: Understanding the Limits of our Students and Finding Ways to Overcome Them
Joshua L. Brittingham, M.Ed.
Academic Advisor
Northern Kentucky University

How Did I Get Here?: An Introduction
"The information we give as advisors follows the law of supply and demand. The more we put out there, the less each piece is valued."
- Unknown NACADA Presenter
Is this true?

Why did I believe it to be so?

What does the literature have to say about this?

I am not a psychologist!

There is little literature that ties this area of inquiry to directly to advising.
The Magical Number Seven
(Plus or Minus Two)
(Miller, 1956)
Multi-Store Model of Memory
(visual, auditory, etc.)
Sensory Store
capacity: only limited by our fields of perception
duration: a fraction of a second up to three seconds

Forgotten & Unstored Information
Short-Term Store (STS)
capacity: just a few items at a time
duration: 18-20 seconds w/o rehearsal
a.k.a. short-term memory (STM)
a.k.a.: working memory
decay and/or
the process by which information is encoded for storage
Maintenance rehearsal: repetition of information without contextualization. Better at refreshing items in STS than converting items for storage in LTS.
Elaborative rehearsal: contextualizes information through deeper-level thought and/or connection to
items already in LTS. Useful for converting
items in STS to LTS.

(Craik & Watkins, 1973)
Long-Term Store (LTS)
a "permanent" store

items can still be lost due to decay or become irretrievable due to interference

capacity and duration and much greater than the other stores
encoded for storage
decay or interference
Humans' short-term memory is capable of handling
7±2 items of information at one time. (Miller, 1956)
Subsequent research has adjusted that number to 5±2 items. (Lutz & Huitt, 2003)

Are there instances where we give students more items of information than can be processed under this limit? What some instances that you encounter or observe in your work or at your institution?

How do students usually handle this sort of situation? How do you normally handle it as an advisor?

What are the implications of this sort of limit on advising? How might understanding of this limit change your approach to advising?
Getting Around Limits of Short-Term Memory
IMPORTANT: These techniques do not increase the capacity of short-term memory. Rather, they can make one more efficient at encoding and retrieving information within its limits.
Miller (1956) observed that the limit of short-term memory refers not to the AMOUNT of information, but rather to the NUMBER OF ITEMS.

He referred to simple pieces of information as "bits" and compounded information as "chunks".

With respect to STM, chunks are treated as one distinct item, just like individual bits are.

The limit of 7±2 items in STM remains constant regardless of whether one is processing bits or chunks, despite the fact that chunks will often contain a much greater quantity of information than an individual bit.
Advising Within the Limits of Short-Term Memory
"The information we give as advisors follows the law of supply and demand. The more we put out there, the less each piece is valued."
- Unknown NACADA Presenter
Examining this topic and reading the literature has led me to as many questions as answers.

If the multi-store model were to be studied within the specific context of academic advising, would the process be represented differently?
When several options are at hand, how do students decide what information to attend to or rehearse? Are there more ways to influence this besides the recommendations that have already been mentioned?
Are there more (or different) recommendations for advising practice to comply with the limitations and capabilities of memory based on the different ways that we interact with students and share information (i.e., in-person, phone, email, IM, social media, website, print, etc.)?

Atkinson, R., & Shiffrin, R. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. Spence & J. Spence (Eds.). The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2). (pp. 89-195). New York: Academic Press.

Craik, F. I., & Watkins, M. J. (1973). The role of rehearsal in short-term memory. Journal Of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 12(6), 599-607. doi:10.1016/S0022-5371(73)80039-8

Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/papers/infoproc.pdf

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Forgetting. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/forgetting.html

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81-97. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0043158
(Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968)
Our students' capacity for processing information is limited to about 7±2 items of information at once.

The capacity of STM cannot be increased, but we can manage how we operate within its limits

Chunking is a technique that can help students pack more information into their limited STM capacity by combining smaller pieces of information into one larger piece.

Rehearsal is the process by which items are moved from limited STM to unlimited LTM, and takes place through repetition and/or contextualization


A restrained, organized approach can help advisors share information within the confines of students' limits.
(Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968)
It's Worth Noting...
Atkinson and Shiffrin's model (1968) very widely accepted, but is not the only explanation for the way memory works.

Their model has been criticized as "oversimplified".

It has served as a framework for subsequent works that have either built upon it or helped fill in gaps.
Bring to mind prior learning. This can have two effects:

Items that were not retained previously can be brought back into the process and given a new opportunity to be committed to LTM
Items that have already been stored in LTM can be retrieved into STM for use in connecting and contextualizing with new information

Example: Use advising notes, emails or other records to review information from previous contacts, and use that as a launching point for the current conversation where you will introduce new information.
How readily our students are able to encode and store the information we share depends on how well it is presented.

Cut out the noise. This may increase the chance of the most important information being processed rather than lost. If an item of information is not something you would want to be a "take-away" for a student (e.g., part of the 7±2 capacity of STM) ask whether it should be excluded, or presented at another time.

If necessary, arrange for multiple instances of information sharing or multiple points of contact if there are more pieces than what can be processed at one time.

Where possible take advantage of opportunities to chunk information. Help students by connecting smaller pieces of information into one larger concept, or help them to learn how to identify or create connections on their own. Create chunks from all new information, or build/add on to previously learned information.
If the goal is to ensure students are processing the most vital information first and foremost with their limited capacity, pointing out what items are most important can help them prioritize information to avoid displacement or decay from STM.
This is how information becomes encoded in LTM, so where possible give students the opportunity to do this.

Don't simply repeat information to students or ask them to repeat it. While this doesn't hurt, it's not the goal.

Give students the opportunity to connect or contextualize new information and demonstrate how they have done so. When a student repeats new information, ask probing questions (Why? How?) to promote this process.
a.k.a. long-term memory (LTM)
What Happens to Lost Info?
Displacement: When the capacity of STS is reached, items can be bumped out to make room.
Decay: When information in STS is not attended to or "rehearsed", it just goes away.
(McLeod, 2008)
“A process of organizing or grouping input into familiar units.” (Miller, 1956, p. 93)
Grouping by common traits
What does trick-or-treat have in common with April Fools' Day?
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