If you’ve not already done so, I would encourage you to subscribe to eLearning Industry’s blog ( They will spam you relentlessly with all sorts of info bits, with the most notoriously prolific being Christopher Pappas. I suspect he spends a good part of his day surfing the internet for ID related topics and then tries to see how many he can post in a week. But it’s good spam. Sort of.


Today’s post, Instructional Design Models and Theories: Schema Theory, is part of a series on ID theories. This is kind of a meta blog post since it involves thinking about thinking. And to make it even more meta, I’m writing about writing about thinking about thinking.


Does your head hurt yet?


First off, thinking about thinking. Since the article is woefully penurious about defining what conceptual schemata are, I refer you to the wiki: Take note how this is tied to computer data models. I believe it is both liberating and limiting when we compare brain functions to machine functions, but my primary concern is that we will become just a tad bit too reductive if we take this approach. So I’m not going to. If you want to compare cognitive function with computer function, feel free to do so and hit “reply all” when you discover some insights. No, really. We’d be interested. I’m just not going to go there for lack of time and space (relatively speaking).


The article defines schemata as, “Psychological concepts that serve as a form of mental representation for selected chunks of complex knowledge which are then stored in long term memory.” Huh? Read that again and see if it tells you anything substantial. Without meaning to be too flippant, can I just say “analogies” and be done with it? Well, the educational psychologists will say “No, you can’t. That’s too simplistic,” and they would be right. With a wink, let me say that it represents a schema that may be a source of errors, but it’s the one I’ve chosen to use.


Anyone up for some passive-aggressive cognitive theory?


So, my schema for schema is “analogy” and I use if flagrantly in my training. I always have and always will. One of the principles of adult ed is that learners relate new knowledge to existing knowledge and my ID strategy is to find a shared base of existing knowledge that we can use as an analogy (or metaphor or mental model or whatever you want to call it) to frame the new knowledge. Once they get adept at the new knowledge it then becomes an analogy (or schema) for more new knowledge.


Bottom line: Take advantage of the human tendency to employ schemata by providing plenty of analogies for learners to use. Even if we don’t do that, engaged learners will analogize or schematize on their own (I always do, even though it looks like I’m daydreaming in class), so it’s best to make sure we use a shared schema to avoid misunderstanding.


Now, on to writing about writing about thinking about thinking.  I enjoyed this article, not for what it said, but for how frustrated it made me in not providing nearly enough information to be useful. And you may wonder how I was able to write so much already on schemata if the article had little helpful information in it. It’s because I already knew what it was talking about and had already formed opinions and employed strategies around it. If you read the article carefully – or even carelessly, it makes no difference really – you will find no practical strategies for employing schemata in your instructional design strategy. And this is my gripe. If you are going to title an article “Instructional Design Models…” it would be helpful to relate the contents of the article to the practice of instructional design.


Just a thought.