Parallel Distributed Processing

Brief Overview

This is a brief overview of the Parallel Distributed Processing  theory for the reader to understand the main points. Readers are encouraged to study more in-depth to gain a full appreciation of the history, development, and implementation. At the end are guiding questions for the educator to contemplate instruction and parallel distributed processing.

Parallel distributed processing (PDP) theory comes from of the connectionist approach that believes language learning involves the activation of nodes and the creation of pathways within the brain. This can be associated with the Hebbian theory which is summarized as, “Cells that fire together, wire together.”

PDP proposes when  nodes and pathways are continually activated it increases the likelihood of learning as it develops stronger longer lasting connections. For example, an educator lesson plans greetings and the exchanging of personal information for the first class. The next class, the educator plans to build upon lesson one with more personal information and saying goodbye. Both lessons have a connection in context, but students will have the opportunity to use the language in lesson one which will strengthen the connections from that lesson. At the same time, students are forming more connections between lessons one and two to form a larger picture of conversation.

This aspect of activating pathways is essential in this theory. If students study once and never review, or do not have chances to use the language, then there is a huge probability the pathways will atrophy and recall will not be successful.

Another key point to PDP is that knowledge is not pulled from memory banks or areas, but is spread throughout the whole brain and this global connection allows for understanding, learning, and recall.

How Not to Use

  • Mindless Drilling: It is purported that increased activation of nodes and pathways builds strong connections to assist language learning and usage. However, drilling that is done in ALM and behaviorism can be ineffective if the student loses motivation or mindlessly repeats. Also, drilling reduces the numerous areas available to assist in learning the language such as movement, context, self cognition, etc…

Find out more information on how to not to use PDP in our online SLA course. Get information and discounts on our course HERE.

How to Use

  • Review: If it is possible, provide opportunities for the students to review previous lessons to maintain knowledge of the information. If the educator has a two hour class, then take ten to twenty minutes to review previous lessons. If the educator has a fifty minute class, take five to ten minutes to review the last lesson. This review can provide opportunities to clear up misunderstood areas of information, keep information fresh, and if PDP is to be believed- build nodes and pathways stronger to steer off atrophy.

Find out more information on how to use PDP in our online SLA course. Get information and discounts on our course HERE.


Final Thoughts

Parallel Distributed Processing theory is a cognitive theory that proposes students learn through neural connections between the multiple aspects of language acquisition and  production. When educators consider all the elements that go into communication and what students need to learn to operate in situations, PDP helps educators  focus on lesson plans that build connections for real life production. If educators are interested in experiential learning, then PDP should be front and center to provide the cognitive abilities students need to use language. However, given the classroom is far from a natural environment, the educator will have to become creative to simulate real experiences for the language learner.