How do learners who have difficulties process, store, retrieve and link information?

In order to assist students who have learning difficulties two key questions need to be addressed:

1. How do learners acquire, process, store, retrieve, link and use information so that it can be applied to carrying out tasks?
2. How can learners who experience difficulties in learning be helped to become more efficient and effective in solving problems?

One writer described how these factors relate to each other with the following `formula', where `motivation' refers to goals, emotions and personal agency beliefs, and `skill' refers to cognitive strategies and memory competence.

In brief, the learning and teaching model, has several features, which occur in approximately the following sequence:

1. A learner is confronted with the demands of a task, or a problem to solve. This might be externally sourced or it might arise internally from the learner's own thought processes.

2. Information from the external world is filtered by a sensory register, which, because of biological differences, varies in efficiency from learner to learner.

3. Some elements of the task will automatically elicit associations with past experiences. This automatic memory, known as primary memory, frees our cognitive processing resources for more important activities.

4. At about this point, the learner's `motivational headquarters' will be deciding if he or she really wants to engage with the problem. This decision will reflect the learner's goals ('Do I want to do this?'), emotions ('How do I feel about doing this?') and personal agency beliefs ('Do I have the skills?' `Can I trust my environment?').

5. Assuming that the learner wishes to engage with the task, the executive system comes into play, with varying degrees of efficiency. This will largely direct and control the learner's behaviour; i.e., the executive system is responsible for the self-monitoring and self-regulation of behaviour.
6. Critical to a successful engagement with the task is the learner's repertoire of strategies - both general awareness of the need to be strategic and more specific strategies that are appropriate to particular tasks.
7. Some elements of the task and the information necessary to solve the problem will be held in a short-term memory store to enable more sophisticated processing to take place. Learners vary in the carrying capacity of their short-term memory.

8. For tasks of moderate to high complexity the learner will have to `search' his or her long-term memory store to retrieve relevant information. In turn, the learner will also be ensuring that new information, which is deemed to be important, is placed in the long-term memory.

9. To the extent that all of the relevant components described so far are operating at an optimal level, the learner will retrieve from his or her memory an appropriate response, or the elements of a response, which will be creatively combined.

10. This response will be encoded into a performance, which may be either external (i.e., an observable action) or internal (i.e., a thought).

11. In the case of an external demand, the appropriateness of the learner's response will then be judged and an external response (i.e., reinforcement, feedback or punishment) is given. If this response is negative, the whole cycle outlined above may then be repeated.

12. In the case of an internal demand, the learner will determine if the solution works or is satisfying. If not, the cycle may then be repeated.

Although the model is portrayed in a static, linear form, it is important that it be seen as being dynamic and recursive. This is shown in my use of more than one number for most elements in the model as they are re-visited during a learner's attempt to solve a problem.

Source: David Mitchell (2008). What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education: Using Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies (Kindle Locations 293-294). Kindle Edition.