The Concept of Elaboration Explained

Elaboration is a method that increases the meaningfulness of learned information by linking the new information to previously acquired information through examples, inferences, or other means (Schunk, 2000).

Elaboration in learning consists in meaning-enhancing additions, constructions, or generations that improve one's memory for what is being learned. For example, a student who remembers the location of the Atlantic ocean on the globe because it starts with an “a” and the Americas and Africa also begin with “a,” or a student who remembers 6 x 9 = 54 because the sum of the digits in the product of a number times 9 always equals 9 (5 + 4 = 9) is capitalizing on elaboration as an encoding strategy.

Over the years, cognitive psychologists have provided theoretical accounts for a rich variety of elaboration phenomena. The concept has been referred to by several different terms such as information processing, covert cognitive processes, synthesis-analysis, as well as deep or elaborative processing (Weinstein Zimmerman, & Palmer, 1988).

Although the terms differ in each of these articles, the concept remains very similar in each and generally focuses on an active attempt to process information by thinking deeply about it, connecting it to previously acquired information, or mentally applying it to situations.

There are various approaches to elaborating upon information:

  • The World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. The date, "9-11" also refers to an emergency situation. The attack on the WTO certainly constituted an emergency situation.
  • An election campaign is like a battle. One side "fires" by saying something against the other side, and then the other side retaliates by doing the same thing.
  • Photosynthesis is a process where plants take in carbon dioxide from the air and produce oxygen. That works just the opposite of me (a human), because I take in oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. This creates a fine balance!

Elaboration has been studied in relation to memory. Craik and Lockhart (1972) suggested that deeper processing in the form of elaboration is necessary to improve working memory Opens in new window, or long term retention of information in long-term memory Opens in new window. Elaboration is considered to be important in creating efficiency of learning and improving memory (Craik & Lockhart, 1972).