Dr Stephen Chew’s tour of learning
Dr Stephen Chew’s tour of learning

Dr Stephen Chew’s tour of learning

Dr Stephen Chew, Professor of Psychology at Samford University takes us on a tour of “how to make teaching and learning more effective.”

Learning only takes place in one location that’s inside your brain. If you understand the principles how the brain learns then you’ll be able to adapt to whatever situation you might find yourself in.

Dr Stephen Chew

How does the brain learn?

Dr Chew offers a simplified version of an information processing model of memory – “a convenient way of organizing information, presenting the basic concepts of how people learn.”

Information from the environment, via our senses (our vision and hearing) makes it to the first of three memories in the information processing model: “Sensory Memory.

Holding all the incoming sensory information, some is select for further processing via attention.

Attention takes all the sensory information and selects a very small portion of it for further processing.

  1. Focus on what is important. Block out what is irrelevant stimuli.
  2. Concentrate to focus our mental effort.

Only this information is passed to the second memory in the system: ‘Working memory.’

Working memory

Whenever you’re thinking about things then by definition you’re using your working memory.

Working memory has a very limited capacity. It is a bottleneck.

Working memory will consciously organise information, rehearse information and if it rehearses the information in the proper way then the information is transferred to long-term memory.

Long-term memory

Our permanent storehouse of knowledge.

Choke points

Certain parts of the memory model are severely limited. The narrow focus of attention, limits learning.

A small light in a dark room.

Stephen Chew

Attention is a very narrow focus and it allows you to be aware of only a very small portion of the environment at any given time. You are not aware of everything that you’re missing, when you are distracted.

Avoid distractions. Be fully present whenever you’re in a learning situation.

Mental effort or concentration is a limited resource. It is all too easy to get distracted or overwhelmed.

Use deliberate practice. Recall and apply information over and over again.

Working memory and its limited capacity.

Over-practice. Chunk information. Organize information into meaningful and coherent units.

Forgetting – the more distinctive your categories, the resistant they are to forgetting and interference.


Common mistakes – avoid multitasking, minimise any sort of distractions that may compete for your attention. Be aware of overconfidence, develop metacognitive monitoring and use testing and self-testing strategies. Be aware:

the hallmark of a poor study strategy is that it builds your confidence without actually increasing learning.

Stephen Chew

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