Schema theory of learning

"All human beings possess categorical rules or scripts that they use to interpret the world. New information is processed according to how it fits into these rules, called schema. These schema can be used not only to interpret but also to predict situation occurring in our environment. Think, for example, of a situation where you were able to finish another person’s thoughts, or when someone asked you to pass that "thingamabob." Schema Theorists suggest that you used your schema to predict what you conversation partner was going to say and to correctly interpret "thingamabob" as the hammer needed to nail something into the wall.

Information that does not fit into these schema may not be comprehended, or may not be comprehended correctly. This is the reason why readers have a difficult time comprehending a text on a subject they are not familiar with even if the person comprehends the meaning of the individual words in the passage. If the waiter in a restaurant, for example, asked you if you would prefer to sing, you may have a difficult time interpreting what he was asking and why, since singing is not something that patrons in a restaurant normally do. However, if you had been to the restaurant in the past and knew that it was frequented by opera students who liked to entertain the clouds, you would have incorporated that information into your schema and not be confused when the waiter asked if you’d prefer to sing.

In contrast to Ausubel’s Meaningful Receptive Learning Theory, the learner in schema theory actively builds schema and revises them in light on new information. Each individual’s schema is unique and depended on that individual’s experiences and cognitive processes.

Ausubel postulated a hierarchical organization of knowledge where the learner more or less attached new knowledge to the existing hierarchy. In this representation, memory is driven by structure as well as meaning. Knowledge in Schema Theory, however, is not necessarily stored hierarchically. In fact, it is meaning-driven and probably represented propositionally, and these networks of propositions are actively constructed by the learner. For example, when we are asked to recall a story that we were told, we are able to reconstruct the meaning of the story, but usually not the exact sentences– or even often the exact order– that we told. We have remembered the story by actively constructing a meaningful representation of the story in our memory..."

Schema theory
Sharon Alayne Widmayer