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

You may have heard the word schema as it relates to coding, where it refers to how a database is structured. While a schema in psychology still refers to how information is organized, it focuses on how the human mind does it.

What Is a Schema in Psychology?

Aschemais 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.

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)

History of Schemas

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.

Schema 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.

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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 of Schemas

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.

What are the four types of schemas? They 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.

  • Inassimilation, new information is incorporated into pre-existing schemas.
  • Inaccommodation, existing schemas might be altered or new schemas might be formed as a person learns new information and has new experiences.

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 education and 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 of Schemas

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.

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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).

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.

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

  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 cognitive development? ›

schema, in social science, mental structures that an individual uses to organize knowledge and guide cognitive processes and behaviour. People use schemata (the plural of schema) to categorize objects and events based on common elements and characteristics and thus interpret and predict the world.

What is the main benefit of schemas? ›

The primary benefit of Schema Therapy is its ability to 1) help people identify and adjust their negative patterns of behaviour and 2) learn how to ensure their emotional needs are met, in a healthy way.

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 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).

What is a schema in Piaget's theory? ›

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.

What are schemas in children's play? ›

In children's play, schemas are used to refer to children's natural urges to do things, like hide, jump, run, and throw things. We've all had the frustrating experience of a child dumping out a box of toys that was just cleaned up or ignoring your pleas to stay clean and jumping into a pile of mud!

How do schemas affect behavior? ›

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 is schema used in classroom? ›

A schema is a pattern of repeated actions, which will later develop into learnt concepts. Schema's use the 'trial and error' method of learning, and are adopted by children as an effort to make sense of the world around them.

What is schema theory of learning? ›

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.

How does the use of a schema improve memory? ›

How does use of a schema improve memory? A schema improves memory for details. A schema provides a framework to use in interpreting a situation. A schema helps avoid making errors in remembering the details of a situation.

Why are schemas important for long-term memory? ›

Schemas support memory and perception by providing an organizational framework within which we can encode and store relevant information, and efficiently incorporate new information.

What are the 3 types of schema? ›

Schema is of three types: Logical Schema, Physical Schema and view Schema. Logical Schema – It describes the database designed at logical level. Physical Schema – It describes the database designed at physical level. View Schema – It defines the design of the database at the view level.

Why is it important of using schema to better understand the text? ›

Schema guides the students from sensory thinking to imaginative thinking, which encourages students to be active in the process of reading, guessing, and interpreting the text (An & Suying, 2013). In the schema framework, students activate prior knowledge to connect/comprehend a text.

What is a real life example of schema? ›

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 you apply the schemas theory to practice? ›

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 is an example of schema in education? ›

For example, when John understands that leaves change color in the fall, he has a schema about leaves and fall. Learning involves forming schemata. When John learns that white and red make pink, or that houses have windows and doors and roofs, he is forming schemata. But learning also involves revising our schemata.

How do schemas influence perception? ›

Schemata influence attention and the absorption of new knowledge: people are more likely to notice things that fit into their schema, while re-interpreting contradictions to the schema as exceptions or distorting them to fit. Schemata have a tendency to remain unchanged, even in the face of contradictory information.

What are the 5 schemas? ›

The Five Schema Domains Defined
  • Abandonment/Instability.
  • Mistrust/Abuse.
  • Emotional Deprivation.
  • Defectiveness/Shame.
  • Social Isolation/Alienation.

What are the 4 schemas? ›

Types of schemas
  • Role schema.
  • Object schema.
  • Self-schema.
  • Event schema.
9 Feb 2021

What is meant by the schema theory how is it important in understanding the reading process Ignou? ›

Ans Schema theory:

Schemas are categories of information stored in long-term memory. A schema contains groups of linked memories, concepts or words. This grouping of things acts as a cognitive shortcut, making storing new things in your long-term memory and retrieval of them much quicker and more efficient.

What is the role of schemas in child development and learning? ›

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.

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.

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 are the two primary reasons that schemas become accessible? ›

- Schemas can become accessible for three reasons: o Past experience – constantly active and ready to use to interpret ambiguous situations. Ambiguous: interpretable in either a positive or negative way. o Goal. o Recent experiences – primed by something people have been thinking or doing before encountering an event.

What are the key features of schema theory? ›

Key features of schema theory

Here are some basic principles of schema theory: Schemata are abstract mental structures. People build on these structures to understand the world. People use schemata to organize current knowledge and provide a framework for future understanding.

How do schemas influence encoding? ›

Various types of schema help us to understand a range of concepts. They can influence memories of events at the point of them being witnessed, affecting what our attention focusses on, therefore affecting the chunks of information available for encoding as long-term memories.

Why is schemata an important feature of teaching? ›

One particular aspect of learning that instructors should consider is how students use prior knowledge to comprehend and learn from text. Schema Theory emphasizes the mental connections learners make between pieces of information and can be a very powerful component of the learning process.

What is schema Why is it important to teachers teaching disciplinary literacy? ›

Schema is your background knowledge; it's what you already know before you even pick up the book. Its major “ingredients” are your memories, the books you've read, the places you've been, the movies you've watched, the vocabulary you know, etc. Your schema, or background knowledge, is highly fueled by your interests.

What is schema in simple words? ›

A schema in psychology and other social sciences describes a mental concept. It provides information to an individual about what to expect from diverse experiences and circumstances. These schemas are developed and based on life experiences and provide a guide to one's cognitive processes and behavior.

What is the role of schemas in child development and learning? ›

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.

What is an example of a schema in child development? ›

Have you seen a toddler repeat an activity over and over again – tipping over the Lego box and emptying its contents on the floor, swishing the paint around in a circle, rolling their toy car over the uneven tiles and refusing to stop? It's actually all part of their essential brain development and is called a schema.

How do schemas affect behavior? ›

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.

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 are schemas in children's play? ›

In children's play, schemas are used to refer to children's natural urges to do things, like hide, jump, run, and throw things. We've all had the frustrating experience of a child dumping out a box of toys that was just cleaned up or ignoring your pleas to stay clean and jumping into a pile of mud!

How do you use schema theory 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.

How do you support schemas in early years? ›

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.

What are the 3 types of schema? ›

Schema is of three types: Logical Schema, Physical Schema and view Schema. Logical Schema – It describes the database designed at logical level. Physical Schema – It describes the database designed at physical level. View Schema – It defines the design of the database at the view level.

What are Montessori schemas? ›

Schemas are patterns of repeated behaviour that allow children to explore and develop their play through their thoughts and ideas. As an adult, you can learn about your children's interests by observing their play.

What are schemas why are they useful provide an example of a schema? ›

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 theory of learning? ›

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.

Do schemas make thinking more efficient? ›

Schemas help us interact with the world efficiently. They help us categorize incoming information so we can learn and think more quickly. As a result, if we encounter new information that fits an existing schema, we can efficiently understand and interpret it with minimal cognitive effort.

How does schema improve memory? ›

Studies have found that people remember information more readily when it aligns with their existing schemas. For example, when asked to recall unfamiliar folktales from a different culture, study participants were most accurate when describing portions of the story that included familiar words and concepts.

What is a schema in health and social care? ›

A schema is a pattern of learning, linking perceptions, ideas and actions to make sense of the world, Piaget described it simply as a way of organising knowledge. When a child's experience matches what they understand they are in a state of equilibrium.

What are the 7 schemas? ›

How many schemas are there?
  • Connecting.
  • Orientation.
  • Transporting.
  • Trajectory.
  • Positioning.
  • Enveloping.
  • Enclosing.
  • Rotation.
30 May 2022

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