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Schema Theory and the Theory of Cognitive Development

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Schema Theory

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† David P. Asubel‚Äôs schema referred to a ‚Äúdata structure‚ÄĚ by which general concepts that an individual absorb from everyday life is stored in the memory. According to Driscoll (2005), ‚Äúschemata are packets of knowledge and schema theory is a theory of how these packets are represented and how the representation facilitates the use of the knowledge in particular way‚ÄĚ (p. 129). A person would go through life receiving different pieces of information. While some pieces get stored in the memory, others do not.¬† There were different factors why some pieces information was included in the person‚Äôs cognition. The pieces of information that were stored goes into a ‚Äúknowledge bank‚ÄĚ or the ‚Äúpackets of knowledge‚ÄĚ by which one could ‚Äúdeposit‚ÄĚ knowledge from different forms of application.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Schemata were explored and defined through a number of different illustrations, aside from the knowledge bank. They were similarly associated with theories.¬† According to Driscoll (2005), they provide the tools to interpret a phenomena or an event. They could help individuals predict an outcome of a situation of events that have not yet occurred. They served as the foundation by which inferences were based. Individuals develop ‚Äúdefault values‚ÄĚ in their minds for each schema and each variable in the schema that would be used according what the cognitive situation required (Driscoll, 2005).

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The relationship between the cognition and the object of cognition could be described to be continuous because knowledge was stored in schemata. The object of cognition could be processed and stored in the knowledge bank and re-used in association when other objects of cognition were encountered. Schemata were perceived to be ‚Äúmental models‚ÄĚ that enabled individuals to interpret events and provide solutions to problems.

 More than that, they included the individual’s perception of task demands and performances. However, these models were perceived to be incomplete or partial. Over time and due experience, these mental models develop and evolve. As the packets of knowledge were filled up with new pieces of information or as a person learns new things, the mental model would grow and become more complete.

            The schema theory reflected a cognitivist approach. In a cognitivism perspective, learning involved the associations that were created through contiguity and reproduction or repetitive measures (Mergel, 1998). Reinforcement was required for knowledge to be established. Knowledge was viewed to be acquired and reorganized to fit the cognitive structures of a human process and memory accumulation. Schema was also viewed as a basic building block of cognition  (Mandler, 1984).

It could be viewed small networks of information about everything a person has learned or remembered about an object, an event, personality, social norms and so on. These networks could be activated when individuals experience other things according to the composition of the network. People could react to different things in different ways because their schemata were different. This was because of the difference in the exposure of people from different information. For example, individuals that grew up in places wherein the media was not as dominant would have different perceptions on the significance of fashion and new gadgets than those that lived in the city and were exposed to different advertisements. The level of subjectivity a person would have towards a certain object of cognition would depend about the knowledge bank or the schemata of a person.

            In the schema theory, knowledge could be re-used according to the manner by which it was obtained. There were areas in the network of information that would appear clearer than others due to the exposure they receive or the number of times this information was processed and retained in the person’s memory. Often times, when the new information that was being processed was already related to variables in a person’s schema, it would be easier to absorb this information.

The schema theory offered that cognition could be obtained by different stages of the schema’s development.   The first step involved the acquiring of knowledge and what was the purpose for this knowledge. Further language could be continuously acquired in the learning process, but it all started with the first acquisition of language (Romiszowski, 1983). The second step involved the execution of actions or application of learning. This step would be marked by a conscious application of knowledge and the repeated information that was needed to initiate and control action (Romiszowski, 1983).

The automatization of the knowledge was another step in the development of cognition. It was a stage that involved a conscious act to consider the action or decision that would be made (Romiszowski, 1983). In this stage, the individual had related different schemata with each other or with newly acquired knowledge in order to perform an action, such as predict an outcome or provide a solution. The generalization of the knowledge included the greater range by which learning was applied (Romiszowski, 1983). Some knowledge would be utilized more than others depending upon the individual’s personality, occupation and other factors.

Theory of Cognitive Development

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Jean Piaget‚Äôs Theory of Cognitive Development was based on his constructivism view. According to this view, knowledge acquisition was a ‚Äúprocess of continuous self-construction‚ÄĚ (Driscoll 2005, p. 191).¬† Piaget perceived the development of the child‚Äôs cognition to be through a process of four stages wherein the stages were not arbitrary but reflected the qualitative differences of the cognitive abilities of the individual.

            The theory was widely constructed according to the inclinations of the theorist. Piaget was interested in cognitive structures  or the structures of thinking (Resnick & Ford, 1981). His work reflected that it was inherent for human beings to develop structures of thinking that were logical and mathematical in nature. It was not that children were born with the logical and mathematical knowledge, nor did he mean that they would develop them. The development of structures of thinking was said to be maintained with both the social and physical environment (Resnick & Ford, 1981). Constructivists held that students could construct a personal reality or interpret it according to their past and current perception of their experiences. The individual’s knowledge was a product of past experiences.

            The stages of cognitive development represented a qualitative change in the cognition of the individual. It was not enough for Piaget to rely on quantitative development in intelligence, instead, children needed to demonstrate qualitative reflections of cognition improvement as well (Driscoll, 2005). The stages were arranged according to the level of necessity they possessed to get the learner to the next stage of cognitive development. Regression was also not possible in this theory.

The stages were under heirarchization requirement wherein the cognitive structures and abilities of each stage were considered. The past stages were not lost, instead they served as foundations for the child’ progress to a later stage. The schemes and operations that the child had learned were seen to integrate. These stages of cognitive development included the sensorimotor period (0-2 years old), the preoperational period (2-7 years old), concrete operational period (6-12 years old), and formal operational period (11 or 12 through adulthood) (Driscoll, 2005).

            The sensimotor stage was a period by which the infants modified their reflexes in order to make them adaptive to the surrounding and the people around them. It was also a time wherein their behavior were goal-directed and the goals could move from concrete to abstract ones (Driscoll, 2005). In this first stage, they would begin to mentally represent objects and events.

            The preoperational stage was a period wherein the child would acquire semiotic function. It was also a time for symbolic play and language games. However, the thoughts that the child develops during this time were still considered to be egocentric, as they find it hard to understand other’s points of view and thoughts (Driscoll, 2005). They also develop the ability to create reason from one perceptual dimension of the problem, enabling them basic problem solving capabilities.

            The concrete operation stage was a period wherein true mental operations such as conversations and reversibility were observed. Individuals in the ages 7 to 11 years of age develop the ability to address concrete problems in a logical manner. However, they still find it hard to think hypothetically and it was still difficult for them to consider all aspects of a problem (Driscoll, 2005).

 During the formal operational stage, the individual developed the ability to solve abstract problems in systematic and logical manners. They would be able to develop hypothetical reasoning and would also develop concern for social issues. This was observed by the time the child is twelve and would continue to progress until adulthood.

Furthermore, the achievement of the stage of concrete operations was said to be the turning point for the child’s intellectual development (Resnick & Ford, 1981). Sophisticated behaviors were already possible to be observed such as spatial and quantity reasoning.

            It was significant to understand the process of development in this theory.  There were three processes that were proposed that were critical in the child’s development: assimilation, accommodation and equilibration (Driscoll, 2005). The first process was described to occur when the individual sees a new object or even for the first time in the context of existing schemes and operations. The means of assimilating information could include grasping the object or throwing it away. In the early stages, the scheme was observed to be broad and undifferentiated. They were used without regard for the appropriateness of their actions towards these new objects.

            The functional character of assimilation was when children apply mental structures that were available in their scheme and assimilate them to new events.  This was a process that described the active seeking of ways to assimilate the newly acquired structure in their lives (Driscoll, 2005). The example that could illustrate this was the talkativeness of children that had just acquired the skill to speak. Adults that learned a new skill have the desire to apply this knowledge in situations wherein it would be possible.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The second process was accommodation. Schemes and operations were viewed to be modified according to the new experience that would be encountered. Accommodation was said to influence assimilation and vice versa (Driscoll, 2005).¬† Adjustments were done in order to address problems of inadequate assimilation.¬† The third process was viewed as the equilibration. This was a process that was described as the ‚Äúmaster developmental process, encompassing both assimilation and accommodation‚ÄĚ (Driscoll 2005, p. 199). It described the child‚Äôs transition from one stage to another. The acquisition of the awareness for shortcomings moved the individual into higher levels of cognition. As individuals mature and grow up, they realize a need to adopt a more complex cognition structure. This process was called equilibration.

Epistemological Comparison

            Asubel’s Schema theory and Piaget’s Cognitive Development theory were learning theories that had similar grounds for the recognition for cognitive development. However, they came from different approaches. Schema theory was based on cognitivism. In this perspective, learning was viewed to be an active mental process. The knowledge the person gained was something that grows and evolves continuously. This theory presented that learning was something that occurs on a regular basis because individuals absorb new information everyday and this is incorporated in the packets of knowledge that the person’s schemata possessed.

            In this perspective, knowledge was organize anew when novel information was learned. New knowledge impacted the exiting network of information in the person’s schema. Thus, learning was observed to be a dynamic process and learning was ceaseless. The interactions that occur were viewed to construct cognitive structures in the individual’s brain. This theory was associated with the framework of learning instructions and curriculum development that involved mastery and critical skills development.

            On the other hand, Piaget’s view was based on a constructivist approach. This perspective reflected that learners create or constructive the cognitive structures in their brain according of their experiences in the world. This concept seemed fairly familiar to the schema theory. However, construction was further related to the physical development that individuals undergo. Learners also assimilate new information to what they know and could entertain new knowledge information that could create new knowledge structures (Mergel, 1998). Thus, learning was something that happens within a social context.

            According to Tennyson and Elmore (1997), construction and reconstruction of recall was always a part of the process that this theory offered. Schema dictated the form of cognition that a person would adapt towards new information. The schemata were influenced through interaction with incoming stimulus content in order to make it meaningful for the person. According to this theory, the interpretive process was not perceptual but cognitive and the emphasis was not on remembering but in the initial assimilation of the new information (Tennyson & Elmore, 1997).

            On the other hand, Piaget’s theory expressed that knowledge was invented and reinvented when a child associated with the environment. Children were perceived to possessed something that enabled them to acquire knowledge through actions that were not random or aimless. These were goal-directed behavior schemes. These schemes evolved with the child’ maturity. Schema was described as the passive mode of organization, while scheme held a more active organizational principle (Driscoll, 2005).  There were both concepts that reflected that the child had an active nature when it came to thinking and learning.

            The schema theory involved the creation of inferences based from incomplete information. The passive approach was described because new information needed to come along in order to create more complex cognitive structures. Accurate recall was dependent on the consistent feeding of information. On the other hand, reconstruction could be erroneous when the context was inconsistent with actual details (Tennyson & Elmore, 1997).

            Flavell (1999) described the cognitive development theory to be egocentric. In this theory, conceptual, perspective and affective perspective existed. However, the child needed to mature in order to develop these. The process was in the form of development stages. This theory also described children to discriminate their gradually acquired skills from others’ perspectives. It took time for people to develop other perspectives because this was something to be acquired through a goal-directive process.

            The weakness of the schema theory relied on the difficulty learners had when they had to accomplish a task that was new to them. If a task or a topic was entirely new to their schema, they would have difficulty absorbing this new information. This theory impacted learning instructions wherein consistency was the key to develop expertise and to hone skills. This schema positively showed how people could excel in certain areas that they were constantly exposed to.

            On the other hand, the theory of cognitive development was seen to be problematic in situations wherein conformity was essential. This theory revealed an egocentric view and the development of personal knowledge.

Constructivism enabled people to build their own methods, principles and perspectives about certain things. However, diversity was not always accepted. However, this was a theory that could be effectively used in teaching developing the learner’s adaptability to multiple realities. Learners that were trained under the constructivist approach were able to deal with different real life situations. Since reality was not something that was constant, this theory was something that provided foundations to understand how person would cope to different challenges.

Impact on Curriculum Development

Schema Theory

            Drills, repeated exercises and application work manifested the impact and significance of the schema theory in curriculum development. Each activity produced should be designed towards the outcome that would ensure an effective transfer of knowledge (Romiszowski, 1983).  As a student progresses from one grade level to another, it could be observed that there were still certain lessons that were tackled before. However, the approach would be more advanced. Related and even repeated courses or subjects were based on the knowledge that students’ had schemata or knowledge banks that needed to be used and enriched at the same time. However, when the activity was perceived to be more of reproductive instead of productive, the variability in knowledge would be limited, causing more harm than good for the students’ learning process (Romiszowski, 1983).

            Through the schema theory, an understanding could be developed for certain relationships that were taught and absorbed based on inclusivity in concepts. Teachers created curriculum courses based on the students’ past curriculum. If a broader approach was implemented in the curriculum before subordinate concepts were introduced, there was a greater probability for stable cognitive structures to be formed (Romiszowski, 1983). Curriculum development usually adapted conceptual elaboration sequence wherein the teaching process would begin from the broadest and most inclusive concept, or the general concepts, and move into narrow and detailed concepts.

            Novac (2001) supported that the introduction of new meanings such be based on relevant concepts and propositions that were already taught to the students. Since cognitive structure had a hierarchy, inclusive concepts at a higher levels need to be presented first. Instructional design could be executed through concept mapping. Concepts that were inclusive or broader in nature needed to be presented in the onset of the topic.

            Teachers needed to help students understand concept-mapping strategies for them to understand this learning theory from a perspective they could use in their learning.  Meaningful learning occurred when the relationships in between concepts were more precise and better integrated with the other concepts and the propositions (Novac, 2001).

            Curriculum development widely included the need for critical thinking activities. This could be done through guiding students in addressing critical thinking questions. Students could be trained to generate answers to critical thinking questions through the guidance of the teachers in order to expand their critical thinking abilities (King, 1995).

            The schema theory also gave light to the issue of poor student performance. This theory could improve curriculum development through the inclusion of classification schema that assisted teachers in providing appropriate lessons and instructions. Sometimes children could not cope up with the lessons due to the inadequate schema they possessed (Funnell & Lee, 2007).  The schema classification of the students was an essential background for curriculum development. Teachers needed to know the knowledge level of the students and how they could enrich them through the identification of schema classification. The most common tool to measure this would be through assessment or diagnostics tests.

Cognitive Development Theory

            The dominant thinking in science education and development psychology was based on the work of Piaget, especially when it came to his cognitive development theory. He devised interviews that were administered to children that supported the theory of cognitive operational development (Novac, 2006). This theory impacted basic curriculum development in education systems. Children were not viewed to gain from learning abstract concepts before they reached an operational stage of thinking such as 11 or older. This theory influenced when subjects were taught to the students and what subjects were appropriate to be taught depending on the learners’ ages. While this view was questioned, it remained to have provided a major impact in the earliest development of academic curriculum.

            The orientation of the theory of cognitive development was also heavily associated with mathematical concepts. Cognitive development was characterized by the succession of logical structures that commanded learners over time  (Khlar, 1976). This theory offered that children had protocol responses to various tasks and questions according to their ages and the assumed  quantity of raw process data in these children’s minds.

            The theory sought to identify logical structures that were assumed to be universal for the children (Khlar, 1976). This provided a guide for educators in the formation of the curriculum. Most of the theory’s impact revolved around task analysis and the fashion by which children approached tasks and how they responded to the knowledge that were brought to them. This influenced the manner by which educators planned their curriculum and activities and accorded their strategies to the principles of this learning theory.

            Furthermore the theory also involved the dual processes of accommodation and assimilation. This theory presented that new knowledge was not joined to previous knowledge, instead, new knowledge was seen to transform the existing knowledge base (Raban, 2001). Similar to schema theory, the theory of cognitive development reflected that new information enriched the scheme of the learner.

            This was brought an important impact in curriculum development because educators constantly needed to construct courses that would enrich the knowledge of the students. Since this theory offered that children were actively seeking to achieve knowledge from goal-directed motivations, curriculum authors needed to assist the students in achieving these goals and at the same time providing the children opportunities by which their knowledge base would be enhanced.

            Children exhibited different capacities that reflected the shape of their perceptions, environmental experiences and interactions with individuals (Raban, 2001). Even if the perspective of this theory was egocentric, the educators needed to develop curriculum that would allow children to grow and be exposed to multiple realities. This would develop their capacity to construct different reactions and generate approaches to face new realities. Learning was viewed to produce  development in the child and the educators needed to seek for alternative and new ways to do so in order to extend the scheme of the children (Raban, 2001).

            The curriculum needed to be shaped in such a manner that children would be exposed to problem-solving situations. The attention of the children could be effectively kept through assimilation of motivational goals with learning goals (Raban, 2001). Aside from such opportunities, educators also needed to provide significant social opportunities that influenced learning as well.

Impact on Instructional Design

Schema Theory

            The schema theory stated that new knowledge was acquired through accretion of the existing schema and by tuning into that schema when similarities and inconsistencies emerged (Reigeluth, 1983). Instructional design could be created based on theories of learning to understand how instructional design could be constructed and implemented.

            According to Tennyson and Elmore (1997), the use of advance organizers was closely related to the schema theory. Advance organizers assist the foundation of relevant cognitive structure in order to produce meaningful learning. Repetition was an instructional design that could be used up to some level and within a variety of motivational styles. Repetition was viewed to influence the quantity learned as it enabled a person to store more information in the memory.

Repetition was presented to improve the quality of learning because it assisted the learner to build a conceptual framework from the schemata and provided a way to build conceptual relationships and reorganize information as a whole  (Tennyson & Elmore, 1997). Advance organizers use repetition and problem solving approaches based on the knowledge that the students may have.

Advance organizing was only effective if prior knowledge was not available or there was new knowledge that was being absorbed. Furthermore, it was a strategy that was effective if the material to be learned had an inherent structure (Tennyson & Elmore, 1997). The development of a conceptual framework through activities of repetition and problem solving  was only effective to facilitate the acquisition of totally new information. Experienced learners that developed cognitive strategies already have conceptual frameworks or a wide array of schemata that would make this strategy less relevant. The most effective situation wherein this could be used as an instructional design would be when the material was unfamiliar, technical and difficult to relate to due to the lack of knowledge (Tennyson & Elmore, 1997).

            The mastery model could also be effectively used in the instructional process. This could be more relevant when it came to learning a physical skill but it could also be related to intellectual activities.  The first stage involved the imparting of the knowledge content. This was done with the assumption that the students had little or no knowledge about the skill or the topic being presented. Basic concepts and principles were usually taught, preferably through experiential or discovery-leaning techniques to absorb more critical and conceptual knowledge (Romiszowski, 1983).

            The basic skill or topic could be imparted through initial demonstration or actual lectures on the topic. The best presentation of the task or the topic should be demonstrated or provided. When it came to conceptual learning, exposure to right and wrong strategies could be beneficial but when it came to skills development this had no benefit for the student.

The development of proficiency was an important step. This could be observed through the application of mastery conditions for the skill or the topic.

            King (1995) suggested different levels by which students would be encouraged to read. Even from a young age until the time wherein the student was already in postsecondary education, reading comprehension skills needed to be enhanced. This was something that would be valuable for the individual’s schema. This would not only increase the level of intellect of the student but it would enhance other aspects of the person. This was seen as perennial problem for students. Instruction strategies should constantly include reading assignments and activities for students to build on their knowledge banks.

            Another approach for instruction was in the introduction of questioning as a means of learning. Teachers should be able to teach their students to constantly ask questions. This was another way to enhance the schemata of the children. In order to motivate critical thinking, teachers should encourage their children to formulate questions about the topics. The instructors should be able to help students to ask subject-specific questions that would enable them to learn more and to explore the subject based on the existing knowledge they had regarding it.

            It was a manner of self-evaluation for their knowledge banks. In this manner, students would be encouraged to learn more. Cognitive instruction required an increased level in processing. Strategies that were used to encourage cognitive approaches to learning included schematic organization, analogical, reasoning and algorithm problem solving activities

Cognitive Development Theory

            When it came to the theory cognitive development, the educator needed to encourage the students to actively seek new knowledge through motivational goals. Piaget’s analysis of the cognitive development of individuals suggested that educators needed to undergo a delicate process of task analysis and instruction in order to effectively use this theory in the instruction design (Khlar, 1976).

            Instruction that was based on the theory of cognitive development was considered as a delicate matter because there were no simple rules that were associated with this that would have uniform concepts. When it came to instruction, the most significant contribution that Piaget provided as the highlighting of substantive changes in competence that were observed through the course of development (Khlar, 1976).

            It was important for the teachers to recognize what to expect from the students. Standards for education were set in order to gauge whether the child was coping with the instruction. They were also placed to see if the method of instruction was effective. Since the changes and description in the intellectual competence of the students were described in the theory of cognitive development, this helped teachers identify their instruction strategies and curriculum development methods.

            The theory presented that it was impossible to dismiss that there were differences in the performance of the children. The analyses of the students’ performance would reflect the stages of development that Piaget developed. Single tasks of competence versus incompetence reflected the stages of transformations that the teachers needed to consider in creating their instructional design.

            Teachers needed to pay attention to the relationship between tasks that gauged the students’ information-processing constructs and the stages of cognitive development in the students. However, this was a complex process. There were attempts that created one or two simple processes that reported the students’ performances but more complex tasks and methods were needed to adequately gauge whether instruction designs were applicable for the stages of cognitive development.

            It was important for the teachers to understand Piaget’s theory of cognitive development in order to help students at the level that they needed. When teachers were assigned to kindergarten students, they needed to expect that students would be egocentric in the manner by which they explored the world. Fights over toys and broken things would be common signs of cognitive explorations. On the other hand, teachers also needed to effectively provide older students with activities that would enhance their hypothetical and critical thinking abilities. When the teachers provide avenues by which they could construct their own approaches and perceptions, this would allow their cognition to grow and evolve at an effective rate.

            Constructive theories required tasks that demanded high levels of processing. Personal selection and monitoring of cognitive strategies were frequently done under this approach  (Mergel, 1998). This perspective also encouraged teachers to facilitate situation learning, cognitive apprenticeships as well as social negotiations. Instruction designs that were influenced by this theory were characterized by the encouragement of social interaction.

Concluding Remarks

            In a lot of ways theories about schema and cognitive development were similar because it provided the potential of human beings to become highly cognitive and constructive individuals. These theories described the broad potential that human minds could receive if the individual would exert the effort to enhance his cognitive structure or mental models. This provided insightful views of the students. Curriculum development and instruction design should be shaped according to these theories in such a way that children would be able to achieve the potential of their minds. However, there would be some point of disagreements in terms of the Piaget’s perspective of the young child’s cognitive abilities. His views reflected that young children could not be taught math or any other critical thinking subject in an effective manner. While this could be true for common cases, there must be the realization that these stages were not entirely dependent on the ages. More than the biological development of the individual, learning was largely due to the experiences and the environment by which the child was exposed to. Exposition to a variety of information that would provide enhancement to the child’s skills and intellect could be more beneficial for the child than Piaget’s theory offered for young children.


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