Schemata and the source of dissonance?

The following is intended to be an illustration of one of the potential origins of the gap between learning technologists and educators. It picks up on the idea of schemata from this week’s study in one course and connects to my point about the dissonance between how educational technology is implemented in universities and what we know about how people learn.

I’m sure folk who have been around the education discipline longer than I will have seen this already. But it is a nice little activity and not one that I’d seen previously.

An experiment

Read the following paragraph and fill in the blanks. If you’re really keen add a comment below with what you got. Actually, gathering a collection of responses from a range of people would be really interesting.

The questions that p________ face as they raise ch________ from in_________ to adult are not easy to an _________. Both f______ and m________ can become concerned when health problems such as co_________ arise anytime after the e____ stage to later life. Experts recommend that young ch____ should have plenty of s________ and nutritious food for healthy growth. B___ and g____ should not share the same b______ or even be in the same r______. They may be afraid of the d_____.

Now, take a look at the original version of this paragraph.

Is there any difference between it and what you got? Certainly was for me.


This problem was introduced in a week that was looking at Piaget and other theories about how folk learn. In particular, this example was used as an example of the role schemata play in how people perceive and process the world and what is happening within it.

I am a father of three wonderful kids. So, over the last 10+ years I’ve developed some significant schemata around raising kids. When I read the above paragraph, the words that filled the blanks for me were: parents, children, infant, answer, fathers, mothers,….and it was hear that I first paused. None of my children really suffered from colic, so that didn’t spring to mind, but I started actively searching for ways I could make this paragraph fit the schemata that I had activated. i.e. I was thinking “parent”, so I was trying to make these things fit.

Schemata are mental representations of an associated set of perceptions etc. The influence how you see what is going on.

I’m somewhat interested in seeing what words others have gotten from the above exercise, especially those without (recent) experience of parental responsibilities.

A difference of schemata

Learning technologists (or just plain innovative teachers) have significantly different schemata than your plain, everyday academic. Especially those that haven’t had much experience of online learning, constructivist learning, *insert “good” teaching practice of your choice*. Even within the population of learning technologists there is a vast difference in schemata.

Different schemata means that these folk see the world in very different ways.

A triumph of assimilation of accommodation

The on-going tendency of folk to say things like (as in an article from the Australian newspaper’s higher education section) Online no substitute for face to face teaching says something about their schemata and (to extend the (naive/simplistic) application of Piaget) the triumph of assimilation over accommodation.

For Piaget people are driven to maintain an equilibrium between what the know and what they observe in the outside world. When they perceive something new in the world they enter a state of disequilibrium and are driven to return to balance. For Piaget, there are two ways this is done.

  1. Assimilation – where the new insight is fitted into existing schemata.
  2. Accommodation – where schemata are changed (either old are modified or new are created) to account for the new insights.

I’d suggest that for a majority of academic staff (and senior management) when it comes to new approaches to learning and teaching their primary coping mechanism has been assimilation. Forcing those new approaches into the schemata they already have. i.e. the Moodle course site is a great place to upload all my handouts and have online lectures.

As I’ve argued before I believe this is because the approaches used to introduce new learning approaches in universities have had more in common with behaviourism than constructivism. Consequently the approaches have not been all that successful in changing schemata.

0 thoughts on “Schemata and the source of dissonance?

  1. FAIL!

    The questions that people face as they raise children from infancy to adult are not easy to answer. Both father and mother can become concerned when health problems such as colic arise anytime after the early stage to later life. Experts recommend that young children should have plenty of space and nutritious food for healthy growth. Boys and girls should not share the same bedroom or even be in the same room. They may be afraid of the dark.

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