What is Schema Theory?

Schema Theory

Schema theory views organized knowledge as an elaborate network of abstract mental structures which represent one’s understanding of the world. These structures are called schema (plural, schemata or schemas).
The concept of schemata was initially introduced into psychology and education through the work of the British psychologist, Sir Frederic Bartlett and was developed by the educational psychologist R. C. Anderson but the concept was used by Jean Piaget in 1926.

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.
  • Because they are an effective tool for understanding the world, the use of schemata makes the automatic processing an effortless task
  • People can quickly organize new perceptions into schemata and act effectively without effort.
  • When learners build schemata and make connections between ideas, learning is maximally facilitated and is optimally made more meaningful.
  • Prior knowledge is important and is a prerequisite for the understanding of new information.
  • Internal conflict may arise when new information doesn’t fit with existing schemata.
  • People’s schemata have a tendency to remain unchanged, even in the face of contradictory information. In other words, it is difficult to change existing schemata. People tend to live with inconsistencies rather than change a deeply rooted mental structure.

In the English language teaching, schema theory is important relevance in the teaching of listening and reading skills.

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