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Schemata theory

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Schemata is the plural and schema is the singular form of this word. Therefore, we have many schemas (which is now considered an acceptable way to describe multiple schemas) which collectively make up our schemata.

Schema Theory is a theory of learning. Schemata are models suggesting relationships between objects. They are learned and structure future learning.

The theory hypothesizes that the schema a person uses during learning will determine how the learner interprets the task to be learned, how the learner understands the information, and what knowledge the learner acquires.

Plato elaborates the Greek doctrine of ideal types – such as the perfect circle that exists in the mind but which no one has ever seen. Kant further developed the notion and introduced the word schema. For example, he describes the "dog" schema a mental pattern which "can delineate the figure of a four-footed animal in a general manner, without limitation to any single determinate figure as experience, or any possible image that I can represent in concreto." (Kant 1781).

Since that time, many other terms have been used as well, including "frame," "scene," "scenario," "script" and even "model", "theory". Key theoretical development of schema theory was made in several fields, including linguistics, anthropology, psychology and artificial intelligence. The heyday of schema theory was probably in the ‘70s (although of course in OB it has barely arrived). One of the main engines was artificial intelligence, which was engaged in getting computers to read natural text. It was quickly discovered that most of what is communicated in a newspaper article cannot be understood without reference to a great deal of information that is not included in the article itself. For example, consider this story from D’Andrade (1995):

John wanted to do well on the exam, but his pen ran out of ink and his pencil broke. He tried to find a pencil sharpener, but there wasn't one in the room. Finally he borrowed a pen from another student. By then he was so far behind he had to rush, and the teacher took off points for poor penmanship.

To understand this story, you have to understand the writing schema because the text itself leaves unstated the connection between John running out of ink and his not being able to work on the exam.

The writing schema serves as a good introduction to the idea. Fillmore (1975) contrasts the "text coherent relations" involved in the English verb write and the Japanese term kaku. These two terms are often translated as synonyms but the schemas they name are slightly different. Both schemas include a scene in which somebody guides a pointed trace-leaving implement across a surface. Such a scene invokes a writer, an implement, a surface on which traces are left, and a product. Neither schema specifies the particular implement used – it could be a pencil, a pen, a piece of chalk, a typewriter, a stick, or even sky-writing airplane. Similarly, the surface can be paper, a black-board, or patch of dirt, or the sky. The thing written can be in any script and in any language and vary from a single letter of the alphabet to a massive monograph. The one difference is that in the English schema, what is written is always text (words, numbers, linguistic symbols). In the Japanese schema, however, even that is flexible. Hence what is kaku-ed may be a doodle, or a drawing. Hence the English schema is a special case of the Japanese schema.

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