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.

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.

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

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.

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) TRANSFORMING SCHEMA | WHAT ARE PLAY SCHEMAS? | WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM

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.

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) What is Schema Theory in Psychology?

  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.

What Role Do Schemas Play in the Learning Process? (2)

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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FAQs

What role do schemas play in the learning process? ›

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.

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 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 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 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.

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.

Why is schema play important? ›

The importance of schemas in children's self-initiated and spontaneous play has become a valued and embedded part of early childhood practice. Schemas are those repeated patterns seen in children's behaviour, and they link directly to the development and strengthening of cognitive structures in the brain.

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 you define a schema? ›

In computer programming, a schema (pronounced SKEE-mah) is the organization or structure for a database, while in artificial intelligence (AI) a schema is a formal expression of an inference rule. For the former, the activity of data modeling leads to a schema.

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.

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 an example of schema and what good is it? ›

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. You probably get an immediate mental image of something out of a kid's storybook: four windows, front door, suburban setting, chimney.

How can schemas influence our thinking and behaviour? ›

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 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!

What are some 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.

How do you explain schema to students? ›

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.

Why is it important for teachers to activate learners schema? ›

When students are confused by a concept, their learning and growth is hindered. We need to engage them as much as possible in order to assist their development. Activating student schema means putting things in context—and by doing so, you will encourage your students' exploration of the material.

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 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.

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 mean 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.

How do children develop schemas? ›

Schemas are patterns of repeated behavior that allow children to develop an understanding of the world around them through play and exploration. Schemas are mental models or processes that we create by trial and error through experiences.

What is the development of schemas? ›

From the perspective of psychology, the development of schemas starts with the construction of simple behavioral action schemas, which are learned through organizational socialization and concrete experiences, and proceeds to cognitive schemas by means of the functional incorporation of the regular structure of actions ...

What is another term for schema? ›

schema chart. scheme. step-by-step diagram. structural outline.

How do you support children's schemas? ›

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.

Are schemas good or bad? ›

Schemas are often accurate representations of our early experiences with caretakers. The problem with schemas is that they are often rigid and resistant to change. Schemas are often biased to the negative or represent a kind of fear-based thinking that is unhelpful.

What is schema and its types? ›

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. Logical Schema – It describes the database designed at logical level.

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 schema and view? ›

View Schema or External Schema

View Schema defines the design of the database at the view level of the data abstraction. It defines how an end-user will interact with the database system. There are many view schema for a database system. Each view schema defines the view of data for a particular group of people.

What is the importance of schemas? ›

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.

Why is schema play important? ›

The importance of schemas in children's self-initiated and spontaneous play has become a valued and embedded part of early childhood practice. Schemas are those repeated patterns seen in children's behaviour, and they link directly to the development and strengthening of cognitive structures in the brain.

What is schema in children's learning? ›

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 Piaget's theory of schemas? ›

Piaget suggested that we understand the world around us by using schemas. A schema is a pattern of learning, linking perceptions, ideas and actions to make sense of the world. Piaget described it simply as the “way we see the world”.

How do you explain schema to students? ›

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.

How do you define a schema? ›

In computer programming, a schema (pronounced SKEE-mah) is the organization or structure for a database, while in artificial intelligence (AI) a schema is a formal expression of an inference rule. For the former, the activity of data modeling leads to a schema.

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

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. You probably get an immediate mental image of something out of a kid's storybook: four windows, front door, suburban setting, chimney.

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 you support schemas? ›

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 is schema how it develops? ›

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.

Are schemas good or bad? ›

Schemas are often accurate representations of our early experiences with caretakers. The problem with schemas is that they are often rigid and resistant to change. Schemas are often biased to the negative or represent a kind of fear-based thinking that is unhelpful.

How many schemas are there? ›

They are constantly changing and developing. There are nine most common play schemas: Connection, Enclosure, Enveloping, Orientation, Positioning, Rotation, Trajectory, Transforming, and Transporting.

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.

What are the 3 types of schema theory? ›

2.2. 2 Three Types of Schema Schema can be classified into three types: linguistic schema, content schema and formal schema (Carrell, 1984).

Why are schemas important for Piaget's theory? ›

According to Piaget, children are born with a very basic mental structure (genetically inherited and evolved) on which all subsequent learning and knowledge are based. Schemas are the basic building blocks of such cognitive models, and enable us to form a mental representation of the world.

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