Speed of Information Processing


What is it?

Speed of Information Processing refers to how quickly a learner can process incoming information. Some scientists consider speed of information processing a central aspect of IQ. Many children with attention problems often are unable to keep up with the lesson plan presented by the teacher.

If they fail to process initial information quickly enough, they may not understand the next things that follow and may quickly give up trying. Scientists are still working to discover the neural basis of speed and efficiency of information processing, but studies indicate that it can be increased with properly designed training programs, just as a runner trains her leg muscles or a baseball player his bat speed. Sustained attention and response inhibition contribute to speed of information processing by increasing activation of the brain processing systems appropriate for the task to which the person is attending. Increased speed of information processing in turn increases attention, since attention wanders when the child falls behind and cannot understand the material being presented.

When it’s a problem:

Children with slower information processing often are unable to keep up with the lesson plan presented by the teacher. If they fail to process initial information quickly enough, they may not understand the next things that follow and may quickly give up trying. “Slow and steady” in this case will not win the race. It’s important to create opportunities for these students to get in shape by exercising their cognitive speed.


1) Students identified as having slower than average speed of information processing may need a variety of supports in the classroom to get the most out of the learning environment. When and if lecture is necessary in the classroom, these students will benefit from having additional written materials to back up the lecture, or access to a recorder to capture and replay audio instructions or notes.

2) Differentiated instructional strategies to address the needs of these students would include frequent checking for understanding, and modulating the speed of content delivery accordingly. These students may need additional time to complete assignments that require a great deal of information processing, such as mathematics. Take care, though, as teachers should not slow down instruction to such a degree that students are not being challenged or that they lose interest.

3) These students will do best in an instructional setting that doesn’t require them to frequently learn entirely new procedures and formats. Stability and predictability will help these students be able to focus on and keep up with the content at hand.

4) Instructional strategies like working in groups or with peer tutors, that allow these students to share the cognitive load with their peers, will likely improve engagement and performance.

5) Continue using ACTIVATE.  Each computer game in ACTIVATE is specifically designed to gauge and provide a gradually increasing challenge to any student’s processing speed.  In Pirate Pete’s Packing Panic, for example, the screen can fill with as many as six fast-moving tiles that have to be organized in a matter of seconds – the speed and complexity of the game increases in relation with the students’ success in completing the task – ensuring that every student is challenged at the appropriate level, and given the opportunity for targeted processing speed exercise.


When it’s a strength:

Children who really are “quick” – literally – can find a traditional classroom setting to be a challenge. These students have brains that are hungry to acquire new skills and concepts – and may find a teacher-led classroom lecture or static seat-work to lack the degree of challenge and speed they need to keep engaged. You might see these students “sneaking” their own additional reading during class, or keeping themselves occupied with games they devised on their own. These students should also be given the opportunity to work at a more appropriate speed.


1) Allow these students to work independently, particularly with technology. They may need to move at their own pace to remain engaged. A wide variety of online learning resources are available that enable students to engage with required content in dynamic ways.

2) Use Interest Development Centers. If you have students with a wide range of speeds, create an enrichment center in your classroom to keep your speedy students engaged. When they’ve finished an assigned task, they can find books or websites of interest, or even begin working on independent projects.

The 8 Core Cognitive Capacities

Further Reading:

“ADHD and Processing Speed” – aboutkidshealth.ca

“What is Slow Processing Speed?” – ADDitude Magazine

Peer-reviewed studies on Cognitive Speed – from the US National Library of Medicine