Schema theory

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This article is about Schema or Scheme theory, a theory of learning most frequently associated with cognitive psychology. For scheme theory in mathematics, see Scheme (mathematics)

Schema theory is a theory of learning most frequently associated with cognitive psychology and constructivism. Frequently employed by practitioners within education and psychology, it seeks to describe the basic mental processes whereby learning, which it defines as a "reconfiguration of mental schemata" or simply "change", occurs.

Schema theorists broadly agree to five interconnected steps within the theory.

  1. Assimilation. When a person is accustomed under the force of imminent viability to one successful way of knowing and doing or approaching a familiar object, they are said to be assimilated to the same. This assimilation comprises the base of a pattern, or mental scheme. However, once a person is assimilated to one successful way of approaching a familiar object--once they have a particular scheme mentally set--it is inevitable that they will encounter prior un-encountered objects.
  2. Error. The person will approach prior un-encountered objects with their prior formed scheme--their prior learned assimilated pattern of knowing or doing or approaching. The person will seek to react to prior un-encountered objects by calling up a prior formed scheme, but will not always react to the new object successfully unless the scheme he or she is approaching the un-encountered object with is similar enough to an antecedent object he or she is familiar with. When it is not, it is inevitable that error occurs.
  3. Perturbation. Error, experienced while a person is seeking to successfully know or do or approach a prior un-encountered object with a prior scheme, inevitably brings perturbation. The person "fails" and experiences pain. Yet, because of perceived imminent viability, the pain is apt to be a motivational pain. The person is likely to "try again."
  4. Accommodation. Perturbation leads to accommodation. The person "adjusts" or "changes" their scheme, their way of knowing or doing or approaching an object. This is where "learning" and "change" is said to occur. Learning disabilities intervene most frequently at this step.
  5. Equilibrium. Once learning (accommodation) has occurred, a person reaches equilibrium in relation to the prior un-encountered object. Success and the resolution of perturbation fuel the refreshed equilibrium. Having experienced this equilibrium, a person is said to now successfully and quite comfortably know and do or approach what was a prior un-encountered object within his or her environ.