Collins & Quillian – The Hierarchical Network Model of Semantic Memory

Last week I had my first Digital Literacy seminar of 2nd year. We were all given a different psychologist to research and explore in more detail and present these findings to the rest of the group. Being a digital literacy specialist I decided to present my findings in the form of a blog post.

The Hierarchical Network Model of Semantic Memory is a theory first introduced by Collins & Quillian in 1969. This was the 1st systematic model of semantic memory. Semantic memory refers to someone’s long term memory. These are the ideas and concepts that are not from personal experience but more from common knowledge such as the sounds of letters and colours.

The model suggests that semantic memory is organised into 2 categories, the first being nodes which is referred to being a major concept, such as an animal or a bird. The second is a property, also referred to as being the attribute or feature of the concept such as brown or wings.

So, how does this theory link to the primary classroom? Last week in one of our education studies seminars it was mentioned that the average teacher expects a response from a child to answer a question within 1 second, it was argued that this is not enough time for children to be able to process the question, find the answer and then verbally present it and therefore more time should be allowed for a response by the teacher, without moving on to another child. This theory talks about how the time taken to regain the knowledge that a person has acquired over time sets off a stimulus that then activates a set of nodes, which then activate other related nodes causing the activation to become widely spread. For example, if a someone was asked ‘Is a dog an animal’, the time taken to respond to that question would depend on the amount of relations between the node which recognises a dog and an animal. Therefore this supports the argument that children should be allowed more time to be able to think of their answers. 

Cognitive economy refers to the information that is stored at one level of the hierarchy is then not repeated on any other levels (See diagram below). A fact or concept is stored at the highest level in which it applies to, e.g fish would be under the category animal and not just fish.


Thank you for taking time to read my blog post and I hope that you found it interesting and I would appreciate any comments you may have about it appreciate any comments you may have about it.


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