What Role Do Schemas Play in the Learning Process? (2023)

Aschemais a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Schemas can be useful because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the vast amount of information that is available in our environment.

However, these mental frameworks also cause us to exclude pertinent information to focus instead only on things that confirm our pre-existing beliefs and ideas. Schemas can contribute to stereotypes and make it difficult to retain new information that does not conform to our established ideas about the world.

What Role Do Schemas Play in the Learning Process? (1)

Historical Background

The use of schemas as a basic concept was first used by a British psychologist named Frederic Bartlett as part of his learning theory. Bartlett's theory suggested that our understanding of the world is formed by a network of abstract mental structures.

TheoristJean Piagetintroduced the term schema, and its use was popularized through his work. According to his theory of cognitive development, children go through a series of stages of intellectual growth.

InPiaget's theory, a schema is both the category of knowledge as well as the process of acquiring that knowledge. He believed that people are constantly adapting to the environment as they take in new information and learn new things.

As experiences happen and new information is presented, new schemas are developed and old schemas are changed or modified.

Examples

For example, a young child may first develop a schema for a horse. She knows that a horse is large, has hair, four legs, and a tail. When the little girl encounters a cow for the first time, she might initially call it a horse.

After all, it fits in with her schema for the characteristics of a horse; it is a large animal that has hair, four legs, and a tail. Once she is told that this is a different animal called a cow, she will modify her existing schema for a horse and create a new schema for a cow.

Now, let's imagine that this girl encounters a miniature horse for the first time and mistakenly identifies it as a dog.

Her parents explain to her that the animal is actually a very small type of horse, so the little girl must at this time modify her existing schema for horses. She now realizes that while some horses are very large animals, others can be very small. Through her new experiences, her existing schemas are modified and new information is learned.

Types

While Piaget focused on childhood development, schemas are something that all people possess and continue to form and change throughout life. Object schemas are just one type of schema that focuses on what an inanimate object is and how it works.

For example, most people in industrialized nations have a schema for what a car is. Your overall schema for a car might include subcategories for different types of automobiles such as a compact car, sedan, or sports car.

(Video) Schema Learning: The patterns of behaviour in your child's play

Other types of schemas that people often possess include:

  • Person schemas are focused on specific individuals. For example, your schema for your friend might include information about her appearance, her behaviors, her personality, and her preferences.
  • Social schemas include general knowledge about how people behave in certain social situations.
  • Self-schemas are focused on your knowledge about yourself. This can include both what you know about your current self as well as ideas about your idealized or future self.
  • Event schemas are focused on patterns of behavior that should be followed for certain events. This acts much like a script informing you of what you should do, how you should act, and what you should say in a particular situation.

How Schemas Change

The processes through which schemas are adjusted or changed are known as assimilation and accommodation.

Schemas tend to be easier to change during childhood but can become increasingly rigid and difficult to modify as people grow older. Schemas will often persist even when people are presented with evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

In many cases, people will only begin to slowly change their schemas when inundated with a continual barrage of evidence pointing to the need to modify it.

How Schemas Affect Learning

Schemas also play a role in the learning process. For example:

  • Schemas influence what we pay attention to. People are more likely to pay attention to things that fit in with their current schemas.
  • Schemas also impact how quickly people learn. People also learn information more readily when it fits in with the existing schemas.
  • Schemas help simplify the world. Schemas can often make it easier for people to learn about the world around them. New information could be classified and categorized by comparing new experiences to existing schemas.
  • Schemas allow us to think quickly. Even under conditions when things are rapidly changing our new information is coming in quickly, people do not usually have to spend a great deal of time interpreting it. Because of the existing schemas, people are able to assimilate this new information quickly and automatically.
  • Schemas can also change how we interpret incoming information. When learning new information that does not fit with existing schemas, people sometimes distort or alter the new information to make it fit with what they already know.
  • Schemas can also be remarkably difficult to change. People often cling to their existing schemas even in the face of contradictory information.

Challenges

While the use of schemas to learn, in most situations, occurs automatically or with little effort, sometimes an existing schema can hinder the learning of new information.

Prejudiceis one example of a schema that prevents people from seeing the world as it is and inhibits them from taking in new information.

By holding certain beliefs about a particular group of people, this existing schema may cause people to interpret situations incorrectly. When an event happens that challenges these existing beliefs, people may come up with alternative explanations that uphold and support their existing schema instead of adapting or changing their beliefs.

Resistance to Change

Consider how this might work for gender expectations and stereotypes. Everyone has a schema for what is considered masculine and feminine in their culture. Such schemas can also lead to stereotypes about how we expect men and women to behave and the roles we expect them to fill.

In one interesting study, researchers showed children images that were either consistent with gender expectations (such as a man working on a car and woman washing dishes) while others saw images that were inconsistent with gender stereotypes (a man washing dishes and a woman fixing a car).

(Video) 🧠 What is a schema? 🧠 Cognitive Developmental Psychology

When later asked to remember what they had seen in the images, children who held very stereotypical views of gender were more likely to change the gender of the people they saw in the gender-inconsistent images. For example, if they saw an image of a man washing dishes, they were more likely to remember it as an image of a woman washing dishes.

How Cultural Norms Influence Behavior and Gender Value

A Word From Verywell

Piaget's theory of cognitive development provided an important dimension to our understanding of how children develop and learn. Though the processes of adaptation, accommodation, and equilibration, we build, change, and grow our schemas which provide a framework for our understanding of the world around us.

3 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Baldwin MW. Psychological bulletin. American Psychological Association. 1992. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.112.3.461

  2. Padesky CA. Schema change processes in cognitive therapy. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. 1994;1:267–278. doi:10.1002/cpp.5640010502

    (Video) Schemas in Play

  3. Aosved AC, Long PJ, Voller EK. Measuring sexism, racism, sexual prejudice, ageism, classism, and religious intolerance: The Intolerant Schema Measure. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 2009;39(10):2321-2354. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00528.x

Additional Reading

  • Levine, LE & Munsch, J. Child Development. Los Angeles: Sage; 2014.
  • Lindon, J & Brodie, K. Understanding Child Development 0-8 Years, 4th Edition: Linking Theory and Practice. London: Hodder Education; 2016.

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FAQs

What role do schemas play in the learning process? ›

A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. We use schemas because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the vast amount of information that is available in our environment.

What is schema and what role does it play in memory? ›

Schemas are semantic memory structures that help people organize new information they encounter. In addition they may help a person reconstruct bits and pieces of memories that have been forgotten.

What is schemata and how does it effect the learning process? ›

What Is Schema Theory? Schema theory describes how people group together associated memories. These groups are known as schemata. Linking new information to existing knowledge makes it easier to move it from working memory to long term memory and makes retrieval much more efficient.

What is a schema in learning? ›

Center for Teaching Excellence

A schema, or scheme, is an abstract concept proposed by J. Piaget to refer to our, well, abstract concepts. Schemas (or schemata) are units of understanding that can be hierarchically categorized as well as webbed into complex relationships with one another. For example, think of a house.

What is the purpose of schema? ›

The purpose of a schema is to define and describe a class of XML documents by using these constructs to constrain and document the meaning, usage and relationships of their constituent parts: datatypes, elements and their content, attributes and their values, entities and their contents and notations.

Why is schema theory important in education? ›

Schema theory has provided education with a way to think about the representation of some forms of complex knowledge. It has focused attention on the role old knowledge plays in acquiring new knowledge, and has emphasized the role of top-down, reader-based influences in the reading process.

What is schema in simple words? ›

Definition of schema

1 : a diagrammatic presentation broadly : a structured framework or plan : outline. 2 : a mental codification of experience that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli.

What are schemas What is their role in reading? ›

It is a process of using reader's existing knowledge (schemata) to interpret texts in order to construct meaning. Many reading experts agree that the schema theory is one of the reasonable theories of human information processing. Schemata, the plural of schema, are believed to be the building blocks of cognition.

What role do schemas play in recognizing and understanding new experiences? ›

Schemas are dynamic – they develop and change based on new information and experiences and thereby support the notion of plasticity in development. Schemas guide how we interpret new information and may be quite powerful in their influence (see work of Brewer and Treyens below).

How can schema be used in the classroom? ›

A schema is a general idea about something. Its plural form is schemata. Schemata can help students learn. In order to use schemata in education, teachers should activate prior knowledge, link new information to old information and link different schemata to each other.

What is an example of schema and what good is it? ›

For example, when a child is young, they may develop a schema for a dog. They know a dog walks on four legs, is hairy, and has a tail. When the child goes to the zoo for the first time and sees a tiger, they may initially think the tiger is a dog as well.

How can schemas influence our thinking and behaviour? ›

How do schemas influence the way we see the world? Schemas can influence what you pay attention to, how you interpret situations, or how you make sense of ambiguous situations. Once you have a schema, you unconsciously pay attention to information that confirms it and ignore or minimize information that contradicts it.

How do children learn through schemas? ›

Schemas are described as patterns of repeated behaviour which allow children to explore and express developing ideas and thoughts through their play and exploration. The repetitive actions of schematic play allow children to construct meaning in what they are doing.

What is schema based on? ›

Schema theory is a branch of cognitive science concerned with how the brain structures knowledge. Schema (plural: schemas or schemata) is an organized unit of knowledge for a subject or event based on past experience. Individuals access schema to guide current understanding and action (Pankin, 2013).

Does schema influence our understanding? ›

One way schemas can influence cognition is that they can affect our ability to comprehend new information. When we're exposed to new information we relate it to our existing knowledge (our schemas) and this can improve our comprehension of that information (as seen in Bransford and Johnson's study).

What is the purpose of a schema quizlet? ›

Schema is an umbrella term for mental structures that help us process and organise information around us through mental representations, which include our past experiences, culture, age and gender.

Where do the schemas we develop come from? ›

Schemas are developed based on information provided by life experiences and are then stored in memory. Our brains create and use schemas as a short cut to make future encounters with similar situations easier to navigate.

What is schema and types of schema? ›

Schema is the overall description of the database. The basic structure of how the data will be stored in the database is called schema. Schema is of three types: Logical Schema, Physical Schema and view Schema.

Why are schemas important in early years? ›

Schemas are useful in observation and assessment because they demonstrate the journey children make from sensory learning and physical movement to understanding and becoming skilled in symbolic and cause and effect learning, which enables executive functioning.

How do schemas develop? ›

In Piaget's epistemology, cognitive schemas are acquired and formed through a process of internalization conceived of as a functional incorporation of the regular structure of actions into the memory (Piaget 1954). Schemas are higher-level cognitive units that are acquired through slow learning.

What are some examples of schemas? ›

Examples of schemata include rubrics, perceived social roles, stereotypes, and worldviews. The concept of schema was first introduced into psychology by British psychologist Frederic Bartlett in Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (1932).

What is another word for schema? ›

OTHER WORDS FOR schema

1 outline, framework, model.

How do you use schema in a sentence? ›

At this time, the child has developed specific schema, or symbols for people and objects in his or her environment, and will draw them consistently over and over.

What is the main idea of schema theory? ›

Simply put, schema theory states that all knowledge is organized into units. Within these units of knowledge, or schemata, is stored information. A schema, then, is a generalized description or a conceptual system for understanding knowledge-how knowledge is represented and how it is used.

What does schemata mean in teaching? ›

Schema is a mental structure to help us understand how things work. It has to do with how we organize knowledge. As we take in new information, we connect it to other things we know, believe, or have experienced. And those connections form a sort of structure in the brain.

What is schema theory and why is it important for listening comprehension? ›

When listening, learners try to recall their background knowledge (schemata) along with their linguistic knowledge in order to comprehend what is being said. This is the field of schema theory. Schema theory is one of the important theories of learning that affects perception and learners' memory.

How can schema affect our life? ›

Using schemas, we are able to develop an understanding of the objects around us based on characteristics that we have encountered in similar objects in the past. Past schemas can also help us in future, novel situations.

What is a real life example of schema? ›

For example, when a fire alarm goes off, you should leave the building. This might seem like common sense, but at one point, you didn't know what such a signal meant. You learned through experience and retained the information through schema. Object schemas focus on inanimate objects and how they work.

How do schemas aid in decision making? ›

Schemas affect everything we perceive and help us interact with the world around us efficiently. They help us think and learn new information quickly, with minimal cognitive effort, by helping us categorize and organize new information from existing schemas. Some schemas change over time.

How can a teacher encourage the development of a schema? ›

Transporting schema

Children enjoy repeatedly moving resources, and themselves, from one place to another. Providing blocks, puzzles and vehicles will encourage them to pick up, move along and put down objects. Being physically active outdoors and using wheelbarrows to move sand will also support this behaviour.

How do schemas affect memory? ›

Schemas can have a negative impact on memory performance. According to the false memory literature, activation of a schema can often lead to false memory for non-presented information that is consistent with the activated schema.

Why is schema important to a child's development? ›

It has been found in research that 'Schemas link to the development and strengthening of cognitive structures (the basic mental processes people use to make sense of information) in the brain. Children are able to act out experiences and take risks, testing out and talking about what they already know and can do.

What is schema in children's learning? ›

What is a schema? Schemas are described as patterns of repeated behaviour which allow children to explore and express developing ideas and thoughts through their play and exploration. The repetitive actions of schematic play allow children to construct meaning in what they are doing.

How do you use schema theory in the classroom? ›

How To Use The Schema Theory In eLearning
  1. Provide Pre-Assessments. ...
  2. Develop Real World Associations. ...
  3. Encourage Online Learners To Reevaluate Existing Schemata. ...
  4. Use Branching Scenarios And eLearning Simulations To Build eLearning Experiences. ...
  5. Rely On A Self-Paced Learning Approach. ...
  6. Put Information Into Context.
1 Jul 2016

What does the Eyfs say about schemas? ›

The EYFS states that practitioners should support children's schematic play patterns so that they can build on individual children's interests, therefore taking part in powerful learning opportunities through sustained shared learning experiences.

What is an example of a schema? ›

Examples of Schemas

For example, when a child is young, they may develop a schema for a dog. They know a dog walks on four legs, is hairy, and has a tail. When the child goes to the zoo for the first time and sees a tiger, they may initially think the tiger is a dog as well.

What the term schema means? ›

Definition of schema

1 : a diagrammatic presentation broadly : a structured framework or plan : outline. 2 : a mental codification of experience that includes a particular organized way of perceiving cognitively and responding to a complex situation or set of stimuli.

What are the main schemas? ›

List of Schemas
  • Emotional Deprivation: The belief and expectation that your primary needs will never be met. ...
  • Abandonment: ...
  • Mistrust/Abuse: ...
  • Defectiveness: ...
  • Vulnerability: ...
  • Dependence/Incompetence: ...
  • Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self: ...
  • Failure:

How can a teacher encourage the development of a schema? ›

Transporting schema

Children enjoy repeatedly moving resources, and themselves, from one place to another. Providing blocks, puzzles and vehicles will encourage them to pick up, move along and put down objects. Being physically active outdoors and using wheelbarrows to move sand will also support this behaviour.

How would you explain to parents that understanding schemas can help them be better parents? ›

Here are some ideas of how to support parents to better understand schemas: Help them to recognise and identify schemas and play patterns. Talk about behaviours that could be described as schematic. Reassure them that schemas are a common way that many children learn and develop.

What are schemas referring to in decision making? ›

Key Terms. Schema: the mental framework stored in memory containing basic knowledge about the concepts we know, used to guide perception, interpretation, problem solving, imagination and day-to-day interactions. 2. Assimilation: when new information is modified to fit into pre-existing schemas.

What are the characteristics of schema? ›

A schema is an organized unit of knowledge for a subject or event. It is based on past experience and is accessed to guide current understanding or action. Characteristics: Schemas are dynamic – they develop and change based on new information and experiences and thereby support the notion of plasticity in development.

What is another word for schema? ›

OTHER WORDS FOR schema

1 outline, framework, model.

Does schema influence our understanding? ›

One way schemas can influence cognition is that they can affect our ability to comprehend new information. When we're exposed to new information we relate it to our existing knowledge (our schemas) and this can improve our comprehension of that information (as seen in Bransford and Johnson's study).

What activities can you provide children with to help support their schema and to stimulate them? ›

What activities or resources can you provide children with the help support their trajectory schema?
  • Set up an obstacle course.
  • Provide children with large blocks to build with and jump off.
  • Large cardboard tubes for children to post objects down.
  • Make paper planes.
  • Blowing bubbles.
  • Activities involving pouring water.
4 Feb 2016

How do you support orientation schema? ›

To support orientation schema play, try walking along walls, rolling down hills, climbing up steps and any kind of movement that requires them to find different heights or positions. Gymnastics, games like Twister, soft play, or a simple trip to the park, are also great for exploring different points of views.

How do you support transforming schema? ›

  1. 26 Activities To Support Transformation Schemas. Here is a selection of simple activities that support transformation schemas. ...
  2. Gloop/Slime. ...
  3. Hapa Zome – Bashing Flowers With Hammers. ...
  4. Ice And Snow. ...
  5. Puddle Art. ...
  6. Making Potions. ...
  7. Making Smoothies. ...
  8. Making Playdough.

Videos

1. Schema Theory Lecture Part 1
(IBPSYCHSURVIVAL - Misty Karmakar)
2. The Transporting Schema | How Children Learn
(The Hidden Gem)
3. What is Schema Theory in Psychology?
(Practical Psychology)
4. SCHEMAS in psychology | The Adaption Process and Role of Mental Maps
(Dr. Sherry)
5. Piaget’s Schema: Accommodation and Assimilation of New Information
(Sprouts)
6. TRANSFORMING SCHEMA | WHAT ARE PLAY SCHEMAS? | WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM
(Mrs. Conti)
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